As an executive coach I have seen more than my share of stressed-out people – leaders charged with implementing massive change, managers struggling to turn around dysfunctional teams, individuals doing their best to achieve difficult goals with far less resources than necessary, and everyone trying to find the time to focus on the things they care most about without much success.

We know all too well the negative effective of stress – increased cortisol, interrupted sleep, greater susceptibility to illness, reduced mental clarity, etc. But recently a family discussion led me to consider whether there are any positive aspects of stress.

There is evidence in nature that stress can lead to positive results. When carbon is put under intense heat and pressure, we get diamonds. When an oyster is irritated by a grain of sand, we get pearls. So can the same be true for us? Is there a certain type or level of stress that can produce positive results?

I believe the answer is “yes.” For many people, change and challenge creates stress. Yet they also are two critical factors in growth – both personal and professional. So what are some ways that you can foster positive stress in the workplace?

  • Set stretch objectives – By developing a goal or objective that feels slightly out of reach, we can encourage extra effort and creativity to achieve it.
  • Push beyond the comfort zone – Incent your team members to try a new approach, develop a new skill, or take on a new challenge. Providing motivation for stepping out of the boundaries of what is known and “safe” offers an opportunity for growth.
  • Develop diversity – Having multi-faceted opinions, backgrounds, perspectives, and styles on a team has inherent challenges. Yet, fostering diversity and the respect for these differences delivers stronger results and long-term success.
  • Offer challenging assignments – Breaking away from the norm and giving team members a chance to take on some of the more challenging issues your organization faces pays huge dividends. Employees grow and the organization reaps the benefits of new thinking and ideas.

Even if you have an environment of unhealthy stress today, it is possible to turn it around to a more positive tone. Take steps to identify and acknowledge the causes of stress (i.e., organizational change, poor team dynamics, conflicting priorities, lack of communication); seek input and feedback from team members; and put a plan of action in place to address the negative elements of stress and promote more positive and productive challenge within your organization.

What other approaches can we employ to promote change, challenge, and positive stress?
Please leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

For more ideas on how you can foster the positive aspects of stress, contact Robyn at

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