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What it takes to stay calm under pressure

  • Periodic breaks to switch off from work helps the mind relax and recharge, say CXOs
  • While millennials are the ones finding it hardest to cope with stress, even leaders often face situations that leave them worried or anxious

(L to R) Ishaan Khosla, 27, partner, Huddle, Snehashish Bhattacharjee, 51, global CEO, Denave, Ravi Kailas, 53, chairman, Mytrah Group and Meena Ganesh, 56, MD and CEO, Portea Medical.

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With increased connectivity and growing competition, the workplace is stressful. The 2018 Cigna 360° Well-Being Survey – Future Assured concludes that 89% of Indians suffer from stress compared to the global average of 86%. While millennials are the ones finding it hardest to cope with stress, even leaders often face situations that leave them worried or anxious.

“Whether it’s a series of quick everyday decisions or path-changing ones, a good leader is defined by the decisions she makes. When you’re at work, your mind is constantly in fight or flight mode, evaluating risks and consequences and over a period of time, this stress leads to decision fatigue, impulsive decisions and procrastination. It’s critical to give your mind a break so that it can relax and recharge. It helps to take periodic breaks to switch off from work. Do something fun, watch something entertaining, practice a hobby, meditate, work out, play an instrument, anything that engages another part of your mind. This is a more sustainable way for you to keep making good decisions,” says Neerja Birla, founder and chairperson, Mpower, a organization working in the field of mental health awareness.

While the often used methods of meditation and relaxing music remains popular, leaders are also looking at new ways to stay calm. We spoke to four CXOs to find out what they do to cope during a stressful work day.

Ishaan Khosla, 27, partner, Huddle

Working in an incubation hub, and dealing with startups involves a lot of back-and-forth, idea-sharing and heated discussions on strategy. We have insights we want to use, but the startup founders often have different ideas. At times like this, I just go for a walk around the office building and come back with a clearer mind.

To make sure that I don’t start work on a stressed note, I list the next day’s main events before wrapping up. The next morning I start by looking at the agenda. The first half is given to things I can manage on my own or issues that are not extremely urgent. I try to schedule all meetings in the second half. This helps me be more productive at work, as I get to finish my deliverables without being called in for a meeting or being disturbed by others.

Snehashish Bhattacharjee, 51, global CEO, Denave

We were busy most of February and March with the annual business planning workshop, an activity that spans four countries and key departments across Denave, putting together business numbers and initiatives for the new financial year. Plus, we had a fire in a key customer alignment, which could impact engagement globally. With all this, I spent over 12 hours at work every day for four to six weeks.

On 12 March, my eight-year-old son was going for his first adventure camp. My wife and I dropped him off, hung around the school till his bus left and headed home to C.R. Park from Noida to get ready for work. It was a nice drive and that probably triggered my decision to take the day off from work. I told my team members and logged off for the day. We went for a long drive, watched two movies back to back, and headed to the house of a friend we had been intending to meet for a while. We finally got home around 11pm. An unplanned leave was a perfect way to rejuvenate, and it energized me for the next few weeks.

Ravi Kailas, 53, chairman, Mytrah Group

After I moved to Mumbai in 1994, my life took on a frenetic pace, like the city. I busied myself with the responsibilities that came with running two companies, Zip Telecom and Xius. The long hours of work and travel translated into tremendous weight gain and stress. One day, a good friend and a representative of investors in my company asked me a pertinent question: “You have been taking care of us, but have you been taking care of yourself?” This motivated me to become more disciplined. I incorporated a 10km run into my daily routine, and this led to marathon training.

Meena Ganesh, 56, MD and CEO, Portea Medical

I believe in focusing on the “power of now”. I have realized that thinking about what has happened in the past and what can happen in the future makes me anxious, even unhappy. I follow a regular exercise routine and meditate to keep calm.

Another thing I follow is counting to 10 before saying something that I might later regret. This comes in handy in stressful situations. During business reviews, where juniors are presenting, it is sometimes blindingly obvious that they have missed something and will not be able to deliver the numbers. I try not to lose my cool and pull them up. However, while being calm, I still have to make sure they realise they need to do a better job. Providing them feedback in a manner that helps them understand the importance without feeling small in front of their colleagues is critical. As the CEO, you set an example for people around you. You cannot behave in a way that affects the company culture in a negative way. By nature, I am cognizant of how my words impact people.

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