It’s tough at the top – how to support your senior managers

Does someone being paid £13m mean that they should be able to cope with overwork and all the stress of the job?

Worried business woman

It's tough at the top

The news last week was that António Horta-Osório, the head of Lloyds Banking Group, has taken time off because of ‘extreme fatigue’. Not surprisingly there is little sympathy for the banker, but this story highlights the unique position of those at the top of businesses  …. of all sizes.

As a stress management specialist, I have worked with a number of senior managers and directors, on a 1-2-1 basis. It is certainly true that the world looks different from their position, so what are the unique challenges for those at the “top”?

  1. Lack of true peers – there are less people for them to talk to who really understand what they are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. If you are the chief executive or managing director, there is no one else on your level. Often senior people find themselves with no one to discuss things with in an open way.
  2. Lack of emotional support – business leaders are having to face tough decisions at the moment.  For example, making people redundant is not an easy decision on an emotional level.  There is little acknowledgement of this aspect of the decision and therefore a lack of support available. I have seen public sector bosses in particular suffering under the strain of making redundancies in these times of spending cuts. However clear the business need is for the redundancies, the emotional consequences also take their toll on the decision makers.

    Businessman Running

    Working longer and longer hours

  3. Lack of people to trust – business can be a competitive environment. Those at the top often do not want to discuss their uncertainties, concerns and worries, for fear of these being used against them by colleagues who may be competitors in the future.
  4. Stiff upper lip – the top management are meant to inspire respect and confidence.  Admitting that they are having difficulty coping is not seen as an option. Stiff upper lip is very much the approach they feel obliged to take.
  5. High expectations from others – being paid a high salary leads to other people expecting a lot from you. Dealing with lots of work, tough decisions and difficult problems is what senior managers are paid for. They are meant to have all the answers, all the time and be available 24/7.

However, those at the top of organisations are people too. They need support like everyone else, and those who cope best are those who recognise that they need support, their own work-life balance, and they find what works for them.

I have found that senior executives get so much out of working with an external coach. They can express their thoughts and feelings openly, and confidentially without fear of judgement. They can explore options and be given time and space to find answers, away from the pressures of making tough decisions all day. They discover how to manage the stress in their lives, so that they can do the best job they can over a sustained period.

This post was written by Charlie Damonsing of CLAssociates. CLAssociates specialises in helping businesses manage stress in the workplace, providing consultancy, training and 1-2-1 support. For further details please contact Charlie on 0771 559 6487.

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