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Stressed Out? Here's How Leaders Cope

My wife is willing to give me 20 points for stress. "But that's it, buddy," she says.

We're moving next month. According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, "change in residence" weighs in at 20 points. It's more than a minor violation of the law (11 pts), but less than imprisonment (63 pts).

That makes sense.

Imprisonment involves being locked up—after moving.

Most stress is about change, whether good or bad. Losing your job is stressful (47 pts), but so is an "outstanding personal achievement" (28 pts).

When work changes, leaders illuminate the future. They offer hope.

Thomas Watson, founder of IBM , was once asked when he knew IBM would become a colossus. "The first day," he said.

"I had a very clear picture," Watson said, "of what the company would look like when it was finally done.

"I realized that for IBM to become a great company it would have to act like a great company long before it ever became one" ("The E-Myth Revisited," Michael Gerber).

When my wife and I first started packing, we had no idea where we were going, no view of the future. All we saw were boxes and boxes.

Then, a few weeks ago, we bought a new house. It's close to Boston, and looks out on a small pond. Sometimes, I picture that pond, and instead of worrying about packing, I worry about drought.

Psychologist Martin Seligman says you can usually predict the outcome of a U.S. presidential election by which candidate is most optimistic ("Learned Optimism").

A classic case, Reagan vs. Carter in 1980.

President Carter spoke about a "crisis of confidence" in a speech to the nation. "This is not a message of reassurance," he said.

I listened to that speech recently. It's the kind of speech that makes you worry about drought.

Reagan radiated optimism. "It's morning again in America!" was one of his ad campaigns.

Carter, of course, had beaten President Ford four years earlier. But President Ford was not known for optimism either.

"The State of the Union," he said in one of his annual addresses, "is not good."

Tip: Leaders acknowledge the current state, then drive to a better one. Sometimes, they bring boxes.

Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (www.expresspotential.com), Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

Comments? Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com

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