Stress-Busting Tools and Techniques for CEOs

This article was adapted from Prof. M.S. Rao’s book “21 Success Sutras for CEOs.”

“Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life.” —Marilu Henner

Life has become very challenging for people globally. Imagine the position of leaders and CEOs at the top who are stressed out due to constant firefighting with organizational challenges. Although technology is a boon, it has become a bane as it has brought alarming stress levels to leaders and CEOs.

Stress has become a major challenge for CEOs. They don’t find time to reflect and take vacations. In fact, a little bit of reflection every day is essential to be more creative and productive. What is the use of achieving success when there is no meaning to life? Because of cutthroat competition, CEOs are under constant pressure from all stakeholders. This pressure often is passed on to lower levels, resulting in low productivity and performance.

A child smiles often but smiles less as he or she gets older because of stress. Think about a person who wears tight shoes and walks with pain. He does everything in his office with pain and pressure. After reaching home, he removes his tight shoes and feels relieved. In fact, stress has both merits and demerits. It builds pressure to unlock hidden potential. Justin Menkes, author of “Better Under Pressure,” identifies three cornerstone attributes—realistic optimism, subservience to purpose, and finding order in chaos—that allow great leaders to realize their potential and that of their people.

Stress and Its Adverse Effects

Stress causes several adverse effects. It costs industry in terms of performance and productivity and can cause individuals mental and physical problems such as heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, and cirrhosis of the liver. People don’t get adequate sleep. Their families are broken, sometimes leading to suicides. The Health and Safety Executive, a UK government body, estimates that stress, anxiety, and depression cost the UK economy about £4bn ($6.2 billion) in lost work days. But for chief executives faced with 24-hour responsibilities in a global marketplace and a host of constituencies competing for attention, the pressures can be intense. Additionally, research by Booz & Co, the consultancy, looking at the world’s top 2,500 public companies, suggests that stress is taking its toll. The average tenure of a global chief executive has dropped from 8.1 years to 6.3 years over the last decade, edging turnover up from roughly 12 percent in 2000 to 14.3 percent in 2009.

7 Stress-Busting Techniques

Bertrand Russell once remarked, “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” The way to tame stress is mindfulness, living in the present, not in the past or future. Britta Holzel of Harvard Medical School, along with other authors, identified four key components of mindfulness that help deal with stress. They are attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation, and sense of self. Here are some tools and techniques for CEOs to bust their stress:

  • Solitude is fortitude. Go to a serene place and sit quietly. Don’t allow any thoughts to enter your mind. Suspend your thoughts and bring your mind to peace and tranquility. You enjoy the power of silence and freshen mental energy.
  • Separate your personal, professional and social life. Don’t carry office pressures home and vice versa. Byron and Catherine Pulsifer assert in “What Are The Benefits to Me,” “Balance in your life between work and your personal life is very important. Without balance, you eventually burn out, negatively affecting your performance at work.”
  • Enjoy your journey toward your destination rather than think about enjoying after reaching your destination because you have only one life to enjoy. Learn to balance both pressure and pleasure.
  • Listen to music as it relieves you from work pressures.
  • Things often don’t happen the way you plan. Hence, keep multiple alternative plans ready to bail you out and prevent you from getting stressed out.
  • Delegate your work. Delegation is the art of passing on the routine tasks to your subordinates, enabling them to becoming competent employees. It reduces your work pressure and also saves you precious time. You can utilize the time saved for other roles and responsibilities.
  • Pursue hobbies and passions other than your work. Hobbies unwind your creativity, providing you joy and happiness.

Having one or two hobbies is essential to provide meaning to your life as money and success are not everything. Modern management guru Peter Drucker, for example, led his life completely by pursuing the hobbies that were close to his heart.

Drucker said, “We will have to learn to develop second careers for accomplished professional and managerial people when they reach their late 40s or so.” He pursued his passions such as writing, consultancy and teaching, and also hobbies such as mountain hiking and swimming. He balanced everything in his life—work, hobbies, and passions. He led his life completely without having any regrets at the end.

Succinctly, to overcome stress, eliminate the activities that don’t reward and serve you in the long run. Don’t try to execute too many tasks. Don’t accept unwanted activities that don’t add any value to you, and drain your energy. Surround yourself with positive people. Be assertive. Don’t worry about things that are beyond your control. Build connections to spend some time to unwind. Eat right. Drink water. Do breathing exercises. Go swimming or walking, or to the gym to energize yourself. Above all, trifurcate your personal, professional, and social life to eliminate your stress.

It is an irony that people earn a lot of money and then spend most of it on stress-related diseases. They must learn to strike a balance between pressure and pleasure. They must be able to balance their personal, professional, and social life. Some people spend their entire life making money without searching for any meaning in life. In fact, there are three symptoms to good health: sound sleep, exercise, and good appetite. As long as you enjoy these three, you will enjoy good health and can keep stress at bay while leading a happy and great life.

Ensure Work-Life Balance

Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo and mother of two daughters, delivered surprisingly frank and candid insights on work-life balance in an interview with David Bradley, owner of the Atlantic Media Company: “I don’t think women can have it all, even though we pretend we can have it all…You know, you have to cope. Because you die with guilt. You just die with guilt.”

It is obvious that CEOs find it challenging to ensure work-life balance. They cannot have it all! However, there are some leaders and CEOs who left their jobs to take care of their families. They decided to spend their time providing meaning to their lives. For instance, C-suite leaders such as Mohamed El-Erian; Max Schireson, the former CEO of MongoDB; and Patrick Pichette, Google’s CFO, emphasized work-life balance. Global companies including Verizon, World Wildlife Fund, OwnLocal, Discovery, ZeroCater, Marketwired, and GEICO emphasize work-life balance to ensure productivity and performance. Remember, work-life balance is not a problem but an option to be managed effectively.


Chris Frantz remarked, “Everybody’s going through a lot of stress these days. No matter how well off you are and how many advantages you have, it’s a stressful time in everybody’s lives.” Don’t confuse pressure and panic as pressure can be converted into pleasure, while panic leads to organizational confusion and chaos. We cannot avoid stress as the present nature of work invites stress. Hence, stress is a necessary evil. We must know how to leverage it. Let us learn to live with it and leverage it to channel our energies productively. Leaders and CEOs must learn how to deal with stress and convert it into an asset to build great organizations globally.

This article was adapted from Prof. Rao’s book “21 Success Sutras for CEOs”

International leadership guru Professor M.S.Rao, Ph.D., is the “Father of Soft Leadership” and founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is a leadership educator, executive coach, speaker, and consultant. He has 36 years of experience and is the author of 36 books, including “21 Success Sutras for CEOs” ( His book, “21 Success Sutras for Leaders ( was ranked as one of the Top 10 Leadership Books of the Year – 2013 by San Diego University, USA. His book, “Success Tools for CEO Coaches: Be a Learner, Leader, and Ladder” ( is the Community Award Winner for 2014 by Small Business Trends, USA. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. His vision is to build 1 million students as global leaders by 2030 ( His vision program was ranked as one of the Top 10 Finalists in the Not-for-Profit category of Leadership 500 Excellence Awards 2015. He received 10th International Prestigious Sardar Patel Award2015 for Lifetime Achievement in the field of “Excellence in Youth Development.” Prof. Rao was honored as an upcoming International Leadership Guru by Global Gurus ( He serves as an advisor and judge for several international organizations, including Global Leadership Awards in Malaysia, Middle East Business Leaders Summits & Awards in Dubai, and Small Business Book Awards in the United States. Most of his work is available free of charge on his four blogs,,, and E-mail him at and follow him on Twitter at @professormsrao.

Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D.
Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D., is the Father of “Soft Leadership” and the Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with 43 years of experience and the author of 52 books, including the award-winning "See the Light in You" ( He has published more than 300 papers and articles in international publications, including Leader to Leader, Thunderbird International Business Review, Strategic HR Review, Development and Learning in Organizations, Industrial and Commercial Training, On the Horizon, and Entrepreneur magazine. He is a soldier, entrepreneur, editor, educator, author, enlightener, and philosopher. He is a C-suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He brings a strategic eye and long-range vision, given his multifaceted professional experience that includes military, teaching, training, research, consultancy, and philosophy. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. He trains a new generation of leaders through leadership education and publications. His vision is to build one million students as global leaders by 2030 ( He advocates gender equality globally (#HeForShe). He invests his time in authoring books and blogging on executive education, learning, and leadership. Most of his work is available free of charge on his four blogs, including He is a prolific author and a dynamic, energetic, and inspirational leadership speaker. He can be reached at