One of the most important tasks that senior leadership has within any organization is identifying the next generation of future leaders at their company. We look for passionate individuals who wake up each day craving success but channel that passion into action and results. We seek creative thinkers who are intensely curious, identifying those who naturally crave answers and alternative ways of approaching problems. We respect those who have the strength to learn why they failed, what to do in the future to succeed, and the willpower to get back on the horse and try again.

Throughout my career, I’ve found a test that helps identify future leaders with expert precision. You see, GREAT leaders always seem to have the ability to remain calm during situations that make most of the general population fall to pieces. That’s because they pass the “Stress Test”. 

Responding vs. Reacting

Stress in the workplace is the enemy of productivity. Incessant venting can create an emotionally exhausting experience for all involved. Individuals who “react” to the drama typically do not endear themselves to others within the team.

Alternatively, GREAT leaders “respond” by maintaining their cool even when the situation provokes an emotional reaction. GREAT leaders don’t stop there, however, as they help everyone involved stay calm and contribute to the imminent situation. There is a difference between managing oneself and managing the reactions of others, and the two don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

Within the workplace, it is common for individuals to achieve promotions based on their commitment to personal success early in their careers. As individual contributors, they can produce more simply by doing more. They can choose to work harder and longer and to be more productive. There is a tremendous amount of control, and correlation, with the relationship between effort and outcomes. When promoted into leadership, one suddenly becomes responsible for the work and success of others. Leaders’ efforts alone are often insufficient to achieve results, especially if they lack the coaching ability to influence others adequately. Thus, the “Stress Test” is relevant not only for one’s capacity to manage personal emotions but also to transform the dynamic of the workplace entirely.

What is the “Stress Test”?

Individuals commonly put their best foot forward throughout the interviewing process.  Professional game faces are on, and many would liken the first interview to a first date. This begs the question, “What combination of behavioral-based interviewing questions and situational scenarios should we engage in, in order to see a candidate’s true colors under stress?”

Engaging a candidate in awkward situations during an interview in order to test their stress tolerance is not widely accepted for a good reason. Sighing or interrupting candidates while they are talking, acting aloof and not paying attention, or repeating questions to see if one gets frustrated just don’t work or prove much of anything. Consider some of the following questions to evaluate their stress level:

  • It doesn’t seem as though you have enough experience for this role, so tell me why you believe we should hire you or why I’m wrong in my assessment?
  • Do you think you’re doing well in this interview?
  • I don’t think I understand. Can you please explain it differently?
  • How would you handle putting in a couple of hours of overtime after a stressful day?
  • Tell me about a time when you didn’t reach a goal. What happened, and how would we know the same situation wouldn’t occur here?
  • How do you prevent a situation from getting too stressful to manage?
  • What advice would you give to calm down a colleague who is stressed out about a deadline?
  • How would you deal with frequent changes at work like deadlines moving up or new inexperienced individuals joining the team?
  • How do you ensure that stressful situations in your personal life don’t affect your work performance?

Even after asking some of these questions, it is worth considering the dynamic between a personality type and the ability to cope with pressure comfortably. Some individuals are wired to embrace bold new ideas and the bigger picture, believing that risks are worth taking and love a challenge. Others are pragmatic as they are drawn by data and facts focusing on the details. Although the former may be naturally wired to deal with stress easier than the latter, it is possible to teach a key stress management component which is detachment. As leaders, we can teach individuals to avoid negative self-talk and “what if” rabbit holes. It’s also possible to coach to emotional stability, allowing employees to understand how to view a situation with a healthy detachment level. This will allow them to process what is happening around them and take purposeful action.

Stress Leads to Burnout

Improving stress management capabilities is one thing but bringing employees to the brink of burnout is another. Create a healthy balance between high achievement and high enjoyment within the office. This could be as simple as rearranging office furniture or hosting an impromptu casual lunch gathering. Instead of your next brainstorming meeting being conducted in the office, take a walk instead. Ask individuals what they think about a situation. You do not always need to implement their input, but people want the opportunity to be heard. Know their personal and professional goals for the year, and take responsibility for helping them achieve at least one or two of them yourself. Make progress on helping uncover each player’s future potential on your team. Your employees have put their careers in your hands, and as leaders, we must handle that responsibility with seriousness and great care.

With over 90 years of Logistics experience, Top Talent is a recognized leader in Talent Acquisition for Logistics, Transportation, and Supply Chain., Let us put our team to work for you. To learn more about successful strategies for getting those impact players and game-changers on your team, reach out to us today.

– Michael Monson
Top Talent LLC
President and CEO