On Saturday, February 13, 2021, the Illinois Tech Leadership Academy (LA) hosted its second virtual seminar of the spring 2021 semester. This was led by none other than John Philbin, Ph.D, who is founder, consultant, and coach at Spectacular at Work and Happy Work Spectacular Life. Philbin started off by polling the group about stress in college and stress in groups. For example, it was recorded that 48% of participants reported that being in the pandemic has made life “Somewhat more stressful.” Philbin then went on to highlight that leaders can create stress and also help organizations effectively deal with stress. After introducing more about himself, he went on to note some quick facts about stress from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The number one fact being that, “stress affects everybody,” and that no one can live a life without any form of stress. Philbin also mentioned that “stress isn’t always bad,” indicating that a lot of organizations are able to achieve their goals through well-managed, good stress. Before the audience went into breakout rooms, Philbin mentioned that the “number one complaint of stress from people is job-related stress.”
The first breakout room was focused on recognizing stress. Philbin played a clip from the TV show “I Love Lucy” in which the main character, Lucy, and her friend Ethel worked at a chocolate factory. Lucy and Ethel were responsible for wrapping said chocolates, however the conveyor was moving too fast and they were unable to wrap the chocolates at a reasonable pace. This led them to resort to extreme behaviors, such as eating the chocolates or stuffing them in their clothes. This was because they were to be fired if they could not keep up. When the manager saw that all the chocolates were gone, she assumed Lucy and Ethel were exceeding expectations, and had the operator increase the speed of the conveyor belt. Philbin asked participants, “What could each of the characters do to make this a leading candy factory in the nation?” In the break out rooms, participants conjectured that Lucy and Ethel could have been more honest if they were not introduced to the job with threats. Since these threats were placed by the manager, most participants thought that the manager should have asked questions to understand their point of view. This activity helped participants think critically about how to recognize and be mindful of the stress one is placing on themselves and their team. When boundaries are conveyed, listened to, and respected, this leads to good stress management for all parties involved.
After the activity, Philbin went on to explain why stress is good. He pulled examples from many famous organizations, sports teams, and emergency responders. All these examples served to show how stress is a natural part of human life and can also contribute greatly to achieving one’s goals, or avoiding dangerous situations. He mentioned that through good stress management, a leader can drive people to push themselves and their team to achieve extraordinary feats. Philbin also mentioned that stress can mold great leaders. Overall, he really emphasized the fact that if stress is recognized, tied to a goal, and managed well, it can be capable of leading people or an organization is capable of many great things.
Shortly after, Philbin sent participants into another breakout room. This time asking the question, “What are some organizations that have achieved great things? What are their characteristics?” The organizations and companies each group listed ranged and varied greatly. On a lot of people’s minds was Amazon, since it has achieved immense success, however the stress levels of its workers are comparable to the Lucy and Ethel scenario explained above. So for some of these successes listed for different organizations, there was a cost. Philbin reiterated how important it is to recognize and effectively deal with stress on a team. He introduced a 2x2 matrix consisting of 2 factors that come into play when we experience stress: the amount of control we have over the situation, and the energy level that we have in the moment. This can be seen in the diagram below:
Philbin, after going through these points, touched on endurance versus resilience. He brought to light that endurance is moreso a feat of strength than of preserving one's overall wellbeing. Resilience is being prepared in a way that encourages openness and adaptability. He connected this to organizational work, in which resilience is far more desirable because it allows said organization to manage the stress it may face in a healthier manner. Philbin then went on to explain some common resilience practices. Listed below:
Nearing the conclusion of the seminar, Philbin made the point that when we create a new context, (ex. mission) leaders can effectively motivate themselves and their teams with good stress. Again, this ties into what he said earlier about stress needing to be tied to a goal. When this is done, stress is easier to experience and manage. Philbin ended by tying in his earlier statistic about job-related stress. Mentioning that a lot of this stress comes from people not enjoying their work or tying it to a goal or purpose. He explains that a remedy for this is “don’t just work, find your life’s work.” This wrapped a neat bow onto the conclusion of the seminar in which students were able to takeaway: stress recognition, stress management, and resilience skills. Skills that aren’t just important for teams and organizations, but that promote one’s well being and bring out their fullest potential. Stress can be our greatest motivator or our greatest obstacle, and it's up to us to manage and choose how we want stress to impact us.