Just returned from a coaching session with a CFO where he supports business transformation initiatives, global capital raising, and strategic acquisitions. All that the leader kept harping during the 3-hour coaching session was about how despite having a strategic mindset with global industry expertise he still can’t manage his own anxiety and stress level. Yes, agreed stress is a part of most job description, mostly when you reach the C-suite. But that doesn’t mean it gets to take over your life.

While workplace stress is a significant concern, a bigger problem these days is leaders believing something to be stressful, even if it is not. Somehow, it has become popular to either intentionally create circumstances that keep you on edge, or else if there is already such a situation, then some may not be taking the necessary steps to manage it better. Unnecessary anxiety and stress-related myths are becoming more and more common in workplaces. Most leaders think they know what their stress is all about, but as the fact is, they don’t; the myths that they consider to be true are the reasons why they are not able to cope with their anxiety more efficiently.

Here, I have tried to bust the top 3 myths that leaders hold about workplace stress.

Myth 1: To be stressed at work, is normal; even necessary…

Are you someone who revels in having airtight schedules? Do you work long hours, taking on more tasks than you can possibly handle? To struggle and accrue so much pressure, just to have someone’s approval, a pat on your shoulder saying “yes, you are good enough, now” – it shouldn’t be required. A stressful lifestyle is not a good indicator for your executive presence; on the contrary, it points towards you being inept in managing your work and time, almost hinting to accepting inefficiency.

Myth 2: Working too much causes stress…

Elon Musk puts in 80 to 100 hours on the job, every single week, and does not look stressed; meanwhile there are others who barely work 40-hours a week, and somehow always appear drained. Why is that? Because stress isn’t directly proportional to how many hours you work, rather it depends upon how happy you are while working, irrespective of the time you put in. If you feel joy in working long and hard, if your work gives you a sense of meaning, then go ahead! Work as long as you want to!

Myth 3: Misconstruing the amount of your contribution at work, leads to stress… 

To give yourself a temporary push, so that you don’t lag behind in your work, is all right. But, making such ‘pushing’ the standard way to work – is not a Star leader quality at all. The truth is, it is not falling behind, but how you feel about the lagging that causes stress. “Am I working hard enough?” That’s the kind of attitude that has the potential to land one in a stressful situation, as feeling bad about it could render you even further unproductive if you do not recognise that the quality of your work is more important than the quantity of hours you put in physically appearing to complete it.

Summary: It’s not work that makes you overly anxious; rather, it is your response to it that results in a stressful situation. That means, unless you don’t change the way you feel at work, changing your priorities, hours, work environment, or responsibilities won’t hold much meaning.

Comments: Have you experienced stress at work? What were the specific things at work that you attributed your anxiety to? And did changing those things work for you? I love learning from my readers. Please do share your thoughts on how stress affects your leadership and executive presence.