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Karin’s Leadership Articles

How Stress is Hurting Your Career

by | Jun 20, 2013 | By Karin Hurt, Career & Learning, Results & Execution |

You know stress is bad for your health. But what about your career? When results are rough the “obvious” answer is to work longer and harder. It’s sad to watch a passionate, hard-working leader shoot themselves in the foot with a stressful reaction. Don’t let stress destroy hard work or sabotage your progress.

Stress Sabotage Stories

(all names changed)

  • Sally worked late every night for weeks getting the numbers just right. She was exhausted. She knew the scenarios inside and out as she presented to the senior team. When an executive questioned the methodology, she began to cry. She knew the answer, but was too worked up to explain it. After all that work, they remember the tears more than the results.
  • Joe is a seasoned sales manager who’s passionate about his vision and driven to win. The competitor was gaining ground, and he was not happy. He frantically called for more meetings and action plans. He demanded improvement loudly. Stress rolled downhill. The team spent more time explaining the problem than selling.Results got worse.
  • Carol’s child was sick and the diagnosis was unclear. She was afraid to tell her boss or to take time off during this critical time in the business. She became distracted and dropped a few balls. Not knowing the whole story, her boss concluded she didn’t care.
  • Frank was “too committed to take vacation.” He worked long days and stayed connected every weekend. He stopped exercising and started drinking too much coffee. His cranky demeanor led his team to avoid telling him bad news He didn’t learn that the project was in jeopardy until it was too late to fix it.
  • Brenda is the ultimate multi-tasker. She gets a lot done, but she always seems frantic. Despite her strong track record of results, she’s not getting promoted due to concerns of “executive presence.”

The Cleveland Clinic provides a good summary of the signs and symptoms of stress. Hardly the conditions for elegant leadership.

Physical Cognitive Emotional Behavioral
Headaches Difficulty concentrating Anger Increased alcohol use
Backaches Forgetfullness Anxiety Cigarette smoking
Chest tightness Worrying Depression Increased caffeine use
Fatigue Thoughts of death Poor self-esteem Drug use
Stomach cramps Poor attention to detail Moodiness Violence
Difficulty breathing Perfectionist tendencies Suspiciousness Overeating
Diarrhea Indecisiveness Guilt Weight gain or loss
Loss of sexual interest Feeling helpless Weeping Relationship conflict
Insomnia Catastrophizing (blowing things out of prorportion) Loss of motivation Decreased activity

It’s easy to think the way out of a stressful situation is to push harder, deeper, and work longer. Taking the foot off your gas may get you further.

What would you add?

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today?


  1. Tim Mushey

    A very important topic Karin! Thanks for the reminder…..

  2. marcus hurt

    This is right along the lines of what I was learning last night in our jui-jitsu class. “Relax, look within yourself to find the way your opponent wants to help you defeat him.”

    Too often we get caught up in struggle and fight and conflict- relaxing can be counter-intuitive but very helpful. Both for results and personal wellness.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Marcus, oh I love that…. “look within yourself to find the way your opponent wants to defeat you…” Need to consider that some more… there’s a post in there somewhere 😉

  3. Steve Borek

    Are you getting enough rest?
    Are you getting enough exercise?
    What are you putting down your pie hole?

    A balance of all three significantly reduces stress.

    Last, get a job that not just pays the light bill but lights you up!

    Unfortunately, most people, 71%, settle for their job, career, industry, working environment, etc.

    It doesn’t have to be this way, though most people are intentional about mediocrity.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Steve, what an important add. It’s hard to be truly stressed when you are in love with what you do.

  4. Bonnie Mann, CPA (@bonniemann)

    There is what your stress does to you and then there is what it does to those around you. We all experience stress from time to time but just as important as it is to evaluate what stress is doing to your career is to understand how it impacts those around you. What stood out to me from the stories above was the impact on those who reported to the individual. Not only do you risk not getting promoted you risk losing your highest performers who no longer want to work in the environment being created by someone under so much stress.

  5. Matt McWilliams


    I was thinking this morning that I need a sabbatical…thinking it more than ever.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Me too. I have a 2 week vacation coming up in July. Getting jazzed.

  6. John R. Stoker

    I love this article. I just finished launching a book about a month ago and I have never been so stressed out. It is important to take time to recharge and refresh oneself to be more effective. It is also helpful to recognize the messages that come to us when we are stressed. I wrote a post called “Are You Chasing Rabbits?” to address the messages that we often ignore. Feel free to check it out at http://www.dialogueworks.com/pages/blogs.php?blog_id=36.

    • letsgrowleaders

      John, Awesome! Thanks so much for sharing your great link. I love it when folks share their writing and insights.

  7. Deb Costello

    Hi Karin… it’s been a long time, eh?

    This piece hits home in that it’s a terrible feedback loop. Stress creates errors creates more stress…

    It’s summer now and a very different cycle for me… the stress is different but the cure is the same… rest, exercise, play…

    Hope you are well…

    • letsgrowleaders

      Deb, so great to see you back! Ahh I miss having the summer cycle.

  8. Dallas Tye

    I’m a little late to this post; I’ve been de-stressing in the US (from Australia) for a month doing theme park boot camps by day and shopping boot camps by night. Ha.

    I’ve taught many hundreds of leaders, doctors, employees; – people, how to manage stress, and I often have to correct a misconception about its solution.

    Many people make relaxation or slowing down a goal, and when they can’t find time to do that they get even more stressed.

    The (initial) goal should be to ‘think more clearly’.

    Even a second or two of clear thinking can give you a beneficial next step. That may be to speed up and go harder, or go home to rest, or just to see the brilliance in a team member’s suggestion.

    While the method I taught for achieving clarity of thought was taught over two half days, tying people to heart rhythm displays, showing them scary statistics, models of brains and cardiovascular systems, and explaining how we are all pretty much the same when it comes to stress (no, your stress is not special); I can tell you that the start of the shift to clear thought can be had by doing this:

    Breathe in to a count of 5 (or around that)
    Breathe out to a count of 5 (MUST be the same as the in breath because we are trying to establish balance in your autonomic nervous system)

    Repeat 3 or 4 times or more if you like.

    That’s a good start. With practice (you must practice) this can become your normal response to stress. Humans are easily conditioned, for better or for worse.

    (yes that was it, but give it a fair go)

    Want another? Add to the above, a 3rd step of recalling a positive emotion, situation or memory.
    This will begin to bring your hormonal system into play (for the better) and over time rebalance Cortisol and DHEA ratios.

    Will you ever have stress again if you do this? Sure! You’re not a robot are you? Don’t beat yourself up. This time you just may not stay with the stress for as long as the last time. That’s incremental progress on your part, congrats!

    Finally, the above is NOT a replacement for the cool things you do now to think more clearly or clear your head. It’s just a facilitator to help you when you can’t do those other things in the moment of stress, and something you have no excuse for not doing.
    (Try it before and after stressful situations too to prep and re-balance)

    Now I’m off to unpack the 9 cases we used to fill the back of a Chevy Tahoe to the roof.
    In 1,2,3,4,5. and out.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Dallas, Sounds like it was an amazing trip. Thanks so much for all of your seasoned advice here. Glad to have you back.


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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict, and hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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