A Review of “What Drives Leadership Stress – and How to Deal” by the Center for Creative Leadership

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By Kevin Howard

Leaders shoulder a wide range of responsibilities that can cause emotional strain; from hiring, training, and
employee retention to compliance, financial management, and general business concerns, leaders have a lot on their
plate that can lead to feelings of stress.

Some stress can help people to perform their best by enhancing creativity, optimizing fitness, boosting immune system
response, and increasing problem-solving skills, as long as it is handled correctly.

But that stress could also come from unintentional leadership stress, a form of trepidation called rumination, when an
employee (or owner) thinks about past experiences or envisions scenarios in the future and adds negative emotions to
them. Thinking about the past is a normal and healthy process but fixating on it can lead to harmful health consequences
for you, your employees, and possibly even your customers.

In the article “What Drives Leadership Stress – and How to Deal,” the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) strives to
help business owners alleviate counter-productive ruminating behaviors and create a healthier environment for employees,
customers, and owners themselves.


According to the CCL, a long list of demands including decision-making, employee development, and conflict management
can contribute to rumination and leadership stress.

As you continue to feel your body’s physiological responses to the work stress that surrounds you, you might think you
understand how that stress is having an adverse impact on your health. But leadership stress can have damaging
short-term side effects that go unnoticed and can have long-term consequences.

The CCL lists three ways rumination can affect your body:

  • Ruminating allows your body to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisone into your system: Adrenaline and cortisol
    increase your sympathetic nervous system activity and decrease your immune system response. The combination of these
    elements can make you more anxious, more prone to insomnia and digestive issues, and likely to suffer an illness.
  • Stress affects your attitude: Those who repeatably ruminate because of stress will sometimes verbalize their thoughts.
    This will not only maintain negative emotions they’ve linked to their experiences, it also affects those around them.
  • Rumination affects your productivity: Spending most of your time on ruminating makes it harder to focus on what needs to
    be done. Because of this, you’re less productive at work.


According to CCL’s research, leaders will turn to sensory pursuits as a form of stress management. This ranges from
physical activities, like running, to other risky behaviors like hitting a wall in frustration or overeating. For
leaders who rely heavily on sensory pursuits, it’s important to find healthy go-to activities like light activity or
listening to music to relieve stress and help your overall health.

The following are some ways CCL suggest leaders counter the harmful effects of stress:

  • Find your stress signals: Learn to pay attention to your body’s signals to leadership stress. What are your triggers for
    stress? Does your heart rate increase? Do you clench your jaw? When you get stressed do you get hot? The faster you
    recognize what your body does in response to ongoing stress, the sooner you can manage it.
  • Set boundaries between home and work life: Set your expectations with your employees by setting boundaries, but also let
    your employees set boundaries for you. This can include your set work hours, your preferred communication channels, and
  • Practice the art of recovery: Athletes at every level know that going 100% all the time will result in little to no
    long-term benefits, and it can even become a hinderance to their work. Check in with yourself throughout the day and
    give yourself breaks. Get away from your desk and walk around, or head outside to get some fresh air. And don’t neglect
    taking a vacation from time to time.


CCL advocates using mindfulness and setting aside time for reflection to combat leadership stress.

Leadership stress can happen when we have the inability to focus on a particular demand, it can be easy for leaders to
feel completely overwhelmed and unable to figure out where to begin. Set some time in your schedule to help you take
control, CCL lists a few actions that can help you gain focus:

  • Define and clarify the expectations of your tasks
  • Maintain a project schedule
  • Complete tasks ahead of deadline


The overall takeaway from CCL’s article is that leaders are better when they take time for self-care. Recognizing the
signs of stress and actively working to reduce your stress response helps you be a stronger, more positive leader, and
translates to a more positive environment for employees and customers.

Kevin Howard

Kevin Howard is a staff writer for PPS based in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. He may be reached at kahoward@ahint.com.