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Just Press Mute

Just Press “Mute”
Thoughts on Authentic Leadership
By John P. Schreitmueller

OK, I admit it. I’m a news junkie. A political news junkie, to be exact. In what free time I have, my favorite news channel is on either the TV or radio, pumping out its 24/7 stuff. Most of the time, that’s fine. I enjoy it. But…

During a recent stretch of complex client interactions one busy morning, I did something different: I turned it off. I found myself negotiating the Atlanta traffic in virtual silence. And, suddenly, I felt refreshed. The meeting at the end of the strenuous commute demanded my complete ability to focus and listen. Had I been saturated with yet another dose of anxiety-provoking news, my ability to be present for my client would have been challenged. I hear similar stories from countless executive and professional clients, and, increasingly, I note the changes in their behaviors and the positive results they realized as they relate their experiences.

Stress management frequently tops client’s lists of priorities. Dealing with emails, voicemails, texts, tweets, conference calls, endless meetings, functional role demands and balancing work/life equations can send even the most seasoned senior executives over the edge. Chronic stress lowers immune systems, exposes leaders to a host of maladies, and renders them less effective. And yet, many leaders add to the stress mess by subjecting themselves to “noise.”

Important note: I am not advocating becoming “low information” leaders! We have enough low information campers already, and the results when uninformed people make critical decisions, such as when they vote based on little or no knowledge of issues and candidates, have been sordid. Being a leader requires being well informed, across a wide range of topics and issues. You know that. If you weren’t well informed, you wouldn’t be a leader.

But there is such thing as too much. We’re talking saturation. And, in working closely and confidentially with senior executives and significantly compensated professionals, it is obvious the “saturation” factor plays a huge role in levels of stress they experience.

There are many ways to address stress. There’s exercise of almost any kind. And there’s yoga. Pilates. Meditation. Deep breathing. Relaxing music. Sleep. Venting to loved ones, friends and trusted advisers. Coaching and therapy. Resistance I hear most to typical stress management tools is about time. That is because we live in an age where time is at such a premium we often feel there will never be any of it to relax and decompress. We’ve all heard the tales of busy executives who spend thousands on high-tech workout equipment that never gets used because they have no time.

So, the strategy I recommend is one that does not require time. It only requires attention to what is going on in your present. Are you allowing yourself to be bombarded by news and annoying commercials? Are you letting the messages of relentless marketing to subtly convince you that you must have more money to be adequate, and that unless you work harder you will never retire to that fabulous house on the beach the tanned guy and gorgeous woman in the commercial have? Do you realize what too much of this does?

I suggest the following:
  • Watch less 24/7 news a week. Most leaders can learn what they need to know from 15 minutes of morning news and 15 minutes of evening news daily. And when you watch, watch a network that does not rattle your core values and your hopes for a better America and a better world. You will find you have more time to do things that help you feel better.
  • When annoying commercials or stories suddenly appear, use the “mute” button. That’s why it’s there! For those who have commercial-eliminating technology, use it! It’s fun to suddenly stop the invasive noise, sales jingles and time-urgent announcements.
  • Streaming news and commercial noise on laptops, tablets and smartphones is no different from noise on TV and radio. Ration your exposure to it so you get what you need without getting an overdose.
  • Commuting in the car can be a trap. You can’t get out or walk away. But you can turn off the radio, or at least turn down the volume. Instead of more commercials and stressful news, listen to some relaxing music. Listen to one of the countless books now available for audio. Or, simply turn it all off. Most contemporary cars and SUVs are very quiet. It’s amazing how comforting it can be to just listen to the engine, the sound of the road or, even when stuck in traffic, to the gentle whir of the air conditioning system. Make believe you’re in a wonderful spacecraft, high above the atmosphere, looking down at a beautiful blue and green planet instead of the angry motorists around you.
  • Seek out more ways to eliminate noise from your daily experience. Quiet and silence are powerful elixirs. They stimulate thinking, possibilities and renewal. You will know when it’s time to turn the squawk box back on. Give yourself plenty of noise space.

These strategies will not eliminate stress from your life. As a busy executive or professional, you have your hands full most of the time. It comes with the territory, and you elected to be at or near the top of the management food chain. But you do not have to find gobs of extra time to reduce stress. If you combine regular exercise, a decent diet, work on healthy relationships and awareness with the above, my bet is you will feel positive results sooner than you think. Just press “mute.”


John P. Schreitmueller, PCC, ECP-BC is CEO of Resolute Consulting Group LLC. His Atlanta-based practice provides specialized leadership, organizational, behavioral and career coaching, counseling and consulting for executives and professionals across multiple industries and functions.

Copyright 2015 by Resolute Consulting Group LLC

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