Do you ever have the feeling that you are about to explode? That there’s just one tiny thing standing between you totally losing it? The daily struggles and little irritations will get under your skin from day to day. Maybe you are secretly thankful that the holidays are over… All you really want to do is put your feet up and don’t think about anything anymore.

Explosions don’t happen over night

It happens to all of us, this build-up of little things that cause us to explode. It can seem to come out of nowhere, but there’s always a cause to this. Your nervous system can be overloaded by the stress of planning a diner for your family, aside from all the other things you must think of. When your nervous system is already overwhelmed, a tiny extra thing can be enough for you to explode. The people around you feel your stress in their own nervous system. That is, for example, the reason why children lash out, just when their parents already have too much on their plate. With the known consequence.

These kinds of incidents happen more and more. Not only in families… In teams, too! How do you cope with this as a leader? To understand this, you need a bit of theory.

Window of Tolerance

During the day, we all function at a certain stress level. The tension we need to fulfil our duties alert and correct. So, there is nothing wrong with a certain amount of stress. The problem starts when the stress level is getting out of a certain frame or window. We call this the Window of Tolerance, a neuroscientific concept described by Dan Siegel.

Within this window, we function optimal. We can keep our thoughts on the job at hand and do what is asked of us. From a certain point, it all gets too much. Our neocortex (with which we think) doesn’t work properly anymore and our reptile brain takes over. This can happen in two ways:

There’s over-arousal, which can look like an explosion. We will jump into a fight, flight or active freeze reaction.

Sometimes we react with an under-arousal reaction. We sort of come to a still and become passive. This looks like a ‘flop’ (we collapse) or as ‘friend’ (we will do anything to avoid a difficult situation and the only thing that counts is keeping everyone happy).

An explosion out of the blue

Every time someone experiences a trauma or long term stress, the Window of Tolerance becomes smaller and we reach the upper or lower limit faster.
This also happens in teams.

Team members are under pressure, either with stress within the organisation or stress in their own personal lives. As a leader, you don’t always know what is really going on. Long term stress causes the nervous system to overload, causing the Window of Tolerance to become so small that an explosion can ‘just’ happen out of the blue.

Of course, this is also true for the leader herself. They get a lot thrown at them and their ability to handle stress is also limited.

I admire you…

Yes, I really do. The fact that you are now taking the time to read this blog, tells me that you know that you are sometimes at your ‘max’ and you are trying to work on that. You will undoubtable recognise yourself in the examples that I started this blog with.

Therefore, I want to say to you that is OK to feel that everything is too much at times and you lose your cool sometimes. You are in a very hard situation.
I find it a miracle that, within this busy world, there are leaders that succeed in combining their family, their work and the welfare of their team. With trial and error, and that is fine!

Looking forward

I am convinced that everyone that is succeeding in leading a team and combining this with their family, is by definition a good leader. So are you! One of the good qualities in a good leader is that they acknowledge that they need help sometimes. Every once in a while, you just don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and you need someone to look at your life with you, so you can take a step forward towards personal and professional development. Do you feel the need for a sounding board, to see what that next step could be? Feel free to plan a free Strategic Conversation with me.

You are welcome.


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Linda Hoeben
+32 474 920 877
Rommersom 1A, 3320 Hoegaarden