The Stress Test

One of the most important tasks given to senior leadership within any organization is identifying the next generation of future leaders. We discovered a crucial attribute as it relates to identifying those candidates: the stress test. Great leaders always seem to have the ability, at least outwardly facing, to remain calm during situations that make most of the general population fall to pieces.

Why the Stress Test?

Think about it a bit; it makes sense. Drama in the workplace is the enemy of productivity. Incessant venting can create an emotionally exhausting experience for all involved. Individuals who react, instead of respond, typically do not endear themselves to others within the team.

Alternatively, good leaders can keep cool even when the situation provokes an emotional reaction. But great leaders also help everybody else stay calm and contribute to the imminent situation and impending objectives. There is a difference between managing one’s self and managing the reactions of others, and the two don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

Early in peoples’ careers, it’s common to achieve promotions based on a commitment to personal success. As individual contributors, they can produce more simply by doing more. They can choose to work harder and longer, and to be more productive. There is a tremendous amount of control, and correlation, with the relationship between effort and outcomes. Once promoted into leadership, one suddenly becomes responsible for the work and success of others. Leaders’ efforts alone are often insufficient to achieve results, especially if they lack the coaching ability to adequately influence others. The stress test is relevant not only for the capacity to manage personal emotions, but also to transform the dynamic of the entirety of the workplace.

Screening for Stress

We know that people put their best foot forward throughout the interviewing process – both applicants and hiring managers alike. Professional game faces are on, and many would liken a first interview to a first date, which begs the question: when do you really get to know what is underneath the surface? What combination of behavioral-based interviewing questions and situational scenarios should we engage in, in order to see a candidate’s true colors under stress? The subject of engaging a candidate in awkward situations in an interview is not widely accepted, likely for good reason. Sighing or interrupting candidates while they are talking, acting aloof and not paying attention, or repeating questions to see if one gets frustrated don’t lend themselves to an attraction-based recruitment strategy. So, how can you interview for stress reactions?

Here are some questions you can use to help evaluate a candidate for a potential leadership position:

  • I don’t think I understand your answer. Can you please explain it differently?
  • How would you handle putting in a couple hours of overtime after a busy, stressful day?
  • Tell me about a time when you didn’t reach a goal. What happened, and how would we know the same situation wouldn’t occur here?
  • How do you prevent a situation from getting too stressful to manage?
  • What advice would you give to calm down a colleague who is stressed out about a deadline?
  • How would you deal with frequent changes at work? Client expectations change, a deadline gets moved up, new inexperienced individuals joining the team, etc.
  • How do you ensure that stressful situations in your personal life don’t affect your work performance?
  • It doesn’t seem as though you have as much experience for this role as some other candidates we are interviewing. Tell me why you believe we should hire you, or why I’m wrong in my assessment.