Leadership Lessons: Building a philosophy against stress

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jon Datsko
  • 319th Comptroller Squadron
I have only been in the Air Force for four short years. However, in this time I have noticed how workplace stressors can have a drastic effect on Airmen depending on how they react to them. These stressors have an impact on the unit, the mission, and the member's personal life. I know I have not yet conquered my own workplace stressors. To be honest I still struggle daily with stress. I have, however, made exponential progress in the last four years. When asked to write this article, my goal was to find a topic for which I could pass on personal experience to help make the reader and the Air Force stronger. In the next few paragraphs I will guide you through the process of developing a philosophy to mitigate the negative repercussions of stress in the workplace.

The first thing you should know is that stress is contagious. During my first two years I did not know why it felt like I was hit with a tidal wave of tension each day in my office. Each day I felt as though I was on the brink of disaster. Only once I moved to a new office in the same unit was I able to realize that one of my co-workers molded the perception of every issue that arose as a pending catastrophe. The lesson I learned through this experience, is that it is important to be aware of those who radiate stress in your organization. If you are aware that a coworker has a high likelihood of raising the level of tension in the office environment, you won't be caught off guard, and thus you will be empowered with a shield against their radiated stress.

The second lesson I learned is that communication is the number one weapon against stress. The majority of stress is self-generated. We tend to stress most when we encounter changes that we haven't experienced before or don't understand. The stress we generate can easily be eliminated. Don't allow yourself be negatively affected when you come across something new. First, decipher as much as you can about the change and build a foundation of what must be accomplished. Then, reach back to the source of the task and clarify all the vague areas you do not understand. Ask questions in the beginning. Communication will allow you to build a firm understanding and highlight the direction in which to move forward on the task. Knowledge develops confidence which mitigates stress.

Another lesson is that procrastination is your number one enemy. Procrastination is selfish. Many people are not aware how their procrastination may affect others. Time is our most precious resource, don't be a thief. If you wait until the last minute or require "friendly reminders" from others to complete things there is high likelihood your actions are stealing time out of someone else's day. Procrastination also feeds stress for both you and your coworkers. You may be inadvertently creating stress for your coworkers when you turn items in at the last minute, it is very plausible new requirements will be generated thus reducing the time available to complete required tasks. Use your time wisely, work on tasks early, and your efforts will reduce the stress level of your workplace.

The final thing you should know is that stress is inevitable and can cause you to focus on small details, lose sight of the overall picture, and cloud your perception of reality. Regardless of how well you accomplish your normal daily requirements, there will always be a chance something new will appear and bring with it a heap of stress. To avoid getting lost in the details and succumbing to the negative effects of stress, prioritization is your best tool. Take a step back. By prioritizing your tasks you are able to refocus on the big picture and evaporate the clouded perception of reality initially created by stress.

In summary, you should now be able to develop a personal philosophy on how to mitigate the stress in your life. This philosophy should incorporate how to: build shields against radiated stress, use communication to reduce stress, starve stress by eliminating procrastination, and overpower stress with prioritization. Once this philosophy is developed and implemented, the overall Air Force will be stronger.