Patricia Asp, 4word Board Member and founder of ASPire, shares how she has dealt with stress throughout her life, and how empathetic leadership could help companies become more supportive for employees dealing with stress.
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What are your early warning signs of stress?
Signs of stress depend on and vary greatly for each individual. Some signs could be an inability to sleep, eat, or concentrate, or signs could be just the opposite and someone will overeat or drink, be hyper-focused on the stressor of the moment and end up going into hyperdrive and working 24/7.
Can you share an example of a time you handled stress well, and also share when you didn’t handle it as well as you would have liked?
I’ve lead some huge first-time initiatives in a publicly traded, Fortune 500 global company and in smaller private companies with significant negative consequences for our shareholders, customers, and employees. Surprisingly, I handled the stress very well. My team knew the goal, we built an operational pathway to success with expert advice, built trust in each other, got to work, communicated with excellence, and by the end of the year, we had fully accomplished what we had set out to do. As the leader I started everyday in prayer asking for the wisdom and guidance needed to get the whole team to the finish line in a way that was God-honoring.
I find the times I haven’t handled stress in the same positive way is when life-threatening things happen to those I love. I immediately go into overdrive mode, finding the best physicians, researching best treatment outcomes, flying home for every treatment. And every time things don’t go as planned—BAM there I was demanding of the oncologist, “What’s the next step?” During his cancer treatment, my husband Glen relayed something that will stay with me personally and professionally for the rest of my life. He said, “Help isn’t help, Pat, until the RECIPIENT defines it as help!”
When I reached a point that I couldn’t do anything more, it was THEN that I surrendered myself and the situation to the Lord, having totally forgotten that that is where I should have started in the first place and had Him involved on the frontend. So 20 years later, when Glen had to have emergency open heart surgery to replace and repair the damaged valves from his earlier chemo, I STARTED that stressful situation on my knees!
Are there steps an organization can take to help its employees deal with stress well?
There are many technical programs that provide employee support, from employee help lines, company-provided mental tele-health, and resources designed to give employees support to cope with personal and professional stress issues. But I believe as leaders it starts with empathetic leadership. Note that I didn’t say sympathetic or apathetic! It’s leadership that knows and understands each of her teammates. When you really know someone and what their “normal” is, you can notice changes and ask questions to be of support.
When my 44-year-old COO was diagnosed with a condition that had a 25% chance of being alive in the next 2 years, I learned in a big way what empathetic leadership meant. We all had great hope he would beat the odds, but as time passed and he eventually entered hospice, it became apparent the end was drawing nearer. Painful? Difficult? Tragic? Sad? Sure, but I knew he was thinking of his two teenage boys and the new home they had recently built. So I researched the equity he had in his unexercised stock options which turned out to be enough to secure the boys’ college educations and the mortgage on their home. And based on the trusted relationship we had built through the years, he allowed me to handle it all two days before he died. The lesson for me? When people are in pain, don’t avoid them—get closer!
What coping strategies do you have in place to find moments of peace in the middle of stress?
Peace comes with the realization that I am never alone. To find peace, I acknowledge His presence, hit my “Divine Pause” button, and go to prayer. In life, bad things happen to good people, but we are promised we are not alone and with God we will cope and live again in hope.
Anything else you’d like to share?
As we go through the many stresses of life, when we start with time of prayer and invite God into the situation, I have found I experience this strong sense of calm, discernment, and peace to release the internal stress and then move forward with confidence.
The overarching theme is given in Psalm 46:10: Be still, and know that I am God. In times of stress instead of going into overdrive, stop and be still knowing you are not alone and that God is with His people and that you cannot be shaken.
Meet Patricia Asp, 4word Board Member, Principal and Founder of ASPire. After witnessing the dramatic weakening of core values of great companies during successions, mergers, acquisitions and rapid growth, Pat launched ASPire as a commitment to the strategic preservation of the goodness of companies and organizations. Using two proven methodologies for measurement and accountability, ASPire’s clients align Purpose and Culture and business strategy for growth and sustainability.
Patricia Asp is a senior Transformation and Operating executive with over 25 years of diverse business experience in Fortune 500 and small privately held companies in the service, education, healthcare and photography industries. Her specialties include business turnarounds, strategic planning, culture and values sustainability, and multiple location/distributed organizational models with emphasis on performance and process improvement. Throughout her career she has held operations, sales, activations, finance, human resources, and business transformation positions, including CEO, COO and President of companies. Each role required significant strategic redirection and performance improvement.
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