Employees are suffering from job-related stress at alarming rates. Manage your stress response and identify quick wins are some of the insights Gerald shares in this podcast among several others to help you and your team manage these stresses and challenges so you don’t get caught in setting unrealistic expectations instead you are able to properly manage them.


Welcome to Workplace Jazz and How to Improvise, your trusted resource for creating high-performing Agile teams and learning the secrets used by today’s jazz musicians and their professional ensembles. I’m your host, Gerald J. Leonard.

According to the staffing firm, Accountemps, their 2017 study produced numbers that still apply today. They revealed that 60% of U.S. workers said that their work-related stress levels have increased. Younger workers are feeling even more pressure. The research found that 64% of employees between the ages of 18 and 34 said that they think of job-related stress all the time, compared to just 59% of workers, 35 through 54 years old, and only 35% of professionals over the age of 55, in an article published by businessnewsdaily.com.

This study also found that most managers recognize the tremendous amount of pressure their employees are under. Specifically, 54% of these executives surveyed acknowledged that their staff is stressed, and 55% of them noticed that their employees’ anxiety has risen.

Now, imagine what’s happening now with the pandemic. Miles Davis once said, “When you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that makes it good or bad.”

So, it’s not the fact that it’s things that happen on the outside, like a pandemic, but it’s what’s happening on the inside. It’s the next note. It’s the way we deal with the issues that we’re faced with.

In my book coming out, Workplace Jazz, I talk about dealing with unrealistic expectations or managing unrealistic expectations. Interestingly, 54% of the executives know that their people are under stress, but they’re not doing much to change that because they’re under pressure. And unless you have an answer for how to deal with stress and understand where it’s all coming from, you don’t have the tools or equipment to change it.

And, so, today I want to share something with you and a mindset with you that I think that one, as an employee or a staff member or a worker or a consultant, you can use in your day-to-day activities to help you manage unrealistic expectations, as well as your stress level.

And suppose you are a leader of an organization, a CEO, CIO, or executive director of an organization. In that case, you can share these with your people and help them, for yourself and for your people, to manage their stress. Here they are.

Number one, manage your stress response. And it is a response. Jack Canfield talks about E plus R equals O, the event, which happens on the outside, plus how you respond, equals the outcome. So we have control of being able to manage our response.

When you’re in an environment controlled by unrealistic expectations, our bodies produce cholesterol, cortisol, and adrenaline. It’s part of the fight or flight syndrome. And these neurotransmitters that our bodies are producing make us feel threatened. And since we’re no longer being chased by saber-toothed tigers, or should be at fear of being eaten by a mountain lion, we have to step back and calm ourselves and take control of our thoughts and our bodies.

And by reasoning and taking a few deep breaths, we can reverse these neurotransmitters’ flow and bring our stress levels under control. And if we keep allowing those transmitters to stay at that level with cortisol and adrenaline, they do a lot of harm physically to our bodies.

So, number two, we need to find common ground. When you’re presented with an unrealistic expectation, somewhere in that unrealistic expectation is an expectation where we can find common ground based on an activity that you or the boss or the manager can agree on.

For instance, in my first book, Culture is the Bass, I share a story I called in the book 15 days Until Liftoff. It was based on a situation where I was brought into with a new team. And we started working together, and I was assigned as the subject matter expert and lead consultant.

And we were sitting in his large conference room, and I’m looking across at a state-level CIO, someone who’s managing billions of dollars of resources. And he looks at me, and he says, “We need to integrate these systems and do a Proof of Concept in 15 days because I gave my word to the commissioner that we would know what we’re doing in 15 days.”

Now, the interesting part was, we had nothing ordered, nothing installed. The team had never worked together. So my first job was to calm myself and then find common ground with the executive, based on his request.

You see, we were able to work together as a team and, because of some of these skills and principles and things that I share in my book about that story, we were able to bring that Proof of Concept in on day 14. We came in a day early. And we did it by finding common ground among our team and with the executive. And we first started with calming ourselves and then working with the executive to meet his objectives. And we met them.

So, number three, identify quick wins. You see, whenever you’re faced with an unrealistic expectation, one of the ways is to buy yourself some time and your team some time is to identify some quick wins or tasks that can be done pretty quickly, to show the executive you’re making progress.

By doing that, you are giving the executive confidence that you’re taking their requests seriously. And delivering on quick wins will generally calm down unrealistic expectations and buy you and your team some additional time. Trust me; it works all the time.

Now, number four, you have to quiet your amygdala. So this kind of goes back to the thing I talked about at first, that fight or flight. What happens in a part of our brain called the amygdala.

You see when we hear something, the first part of our brain that hears it is the amygdala. It judges whether it’s safe or it’s a threat. So to quell the amygdala, there’s something called the amygdala hijack, where, when you get under a lot of pressure, the amygdala takes over, and you do whatever. It’s like watching a dog run across the street fast, knowing that he’s running into traffic. His amygdala has taken over. He’s lost all control. He’s not making sense of what he’s doing, but he reacts. You don’t want to be in that place where you have amygdala hijack.

One way to avoid or deal with the amygdala hijack is to calm yourself and work with yourself and your team and develop a detailed plan. You see, by providing a detailed plan with dates and times to complete these activities, you will begin to quell your amygdala to get the work done.

And you’ll see that we have an action plan, and now we can all see the big picture road map. This provides confidence to you and your team, and the executive. And it helps them to understand that you’re taking, again, their unrealistic expectations seriously. They then start looking at what’s realistic by looking at your plan as you share your project with them.

And then the final thing I want to share with you today is, you may not be doing it regularly, but if you’re working in any team, I would recommend you start doing this. And it’s something that we use in Agile. It’s called the daily stand-up. What you want to do is, especially if you have a manager or a leader who has unrealistic expectations, invite them to a few of your daily stand-up meetings. Now here’s what happens at a daily stand-up.

So you invite the executive in. And what you’re going to do is, you’re going to pull your team together, and you can virtually do it, or if you’re physically together. You’re socially distanced now with the pandemic; it’s everyone who stands up and gives a two or three-minute status review of where they are with the work they’re working on regarding the project or activity significant effort the executive has asked for.

And the things you’re going to cover are: What did we work on yesterday? How did it go? What are we going to work on today? And are there any impediments that need to be moved, or we need to escalate to keep the ball moving forward?

You see what this does, if an executive comes to that kind of a meeting, and it’s done in 15 minutes, if you do that, what happens is, they start seeing that you’re making progress on their activities. And the participants, they stand up. They give their firsthand account. They give progress. And the executive says, “Okay, the team is making progress. I can back off because now I can see those things …”

Or he may decide to join the team, but at least you have a format in which you’re informing him and getting him involved. And I’ve found that to be a fantastic way to get stakeholder engagement and buy-in and get them on board with the things you’re dealing with. And also, they will start helping to move any impediments if they come up.

Again, another quote from Miles Davis: “If you’re not making a mistake, that is a mistake.” So, now, what do you do, and how do you handle this, and what do you do to move forward? Well, again, you have three options.

You can deal with unrealistic expectations by doing what you did before and not making any changes. Or you can try to figure out how to deal with it yourself and take some of the advice from my podcasts or other books that you’ve read or other team members that have given you input.

Or you can also go onto my website, and you can go to www.workplace-jazz.com. And you’ll find a high-performance assessment. Take the assessment. It’ll give you and your team some ground rules and some things to move forward on that’ll help you really address these issues and identify how to handle unrealistic expectations, and position yourself with your team and your executive to make things happen.

In closing, I encourage you to implement the insights that I shared with you in this podcast so that these unrealistic expectations do not get out of hand and create havoc in your organization. As I recommend to many clients, it’s better to thrive than to barely survive.

You’ve been listening to Workplace Jazz with me, Gerald J. Leonard, How to Improvise. Thanks for listening.

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