Late last year, a survey from global executive recruitment firm Odgers-Berndtson brought into public focus the disturbingly relentless and intense levels of stress to which C-suite managers working for FTSE 350 companies were routinely subjected.

Tellingly, the report was titled Lonely at the Top, and sadly, for those of us involved in executive coaching, it came as little surprise: 40% of the managers polled said that they couldn’t sustain the pace they were currently working at for more than 12 months, and 75% reported that they couldn’t sustain it for more than two years.

The insane pace that our executives have become accustomed to has claimed some major casualties: in 2013, former City regulator Sir Hector Sants resigned from Barclays after being signed off for stress and exhaustion, while former Lloyds CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio was compulsorily signed off as sick in 2011, checking into the Priory Hospital with sleep deprivation.

Something’s got to give. This pace is unsustainable – and it sets up a potentially deeply destructive ideal of leadership for younger, up-and-coming executives.

Roffey Park Senior Consultant Adrian Lock has recently suggested how this culture of sleepless, endless availability can be reformed into something more human. I’ll briefly describe his recommendations in this blog and the next.

Lock’s first recommendation is for executives to find an emergency break of sorts by distancing themselves from the “act now” pressure of quarterly reports. Everyone fears being grilled by City analysts, and the fear drives an excessive focus on short-term results. The evidence is overwhelming: this kind of short-termism doesn’t work. Companies that deliver the best shareholder returns maintain an external focus on customers or on building an outstanding business over the long term. The optimal strategy is best described as adopting an “as slow as you can and as fast as you must” approach. Leaders with the courage to focus on long-term performance suffer fewer sleepless nights.

More in Part Two.

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