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Procurement Perspectives: The stress of leadership in construction

Stephen Bauld
Procurement Perspectives: The stress of leadership in construction

In physics, stress is the strain that a force exerts on a body so as to deform, stretch or distort that body.
The psychological meaning is essentially the same, except here the “body” is the human psyche.

Minor stress is a natural part of life and an inherent aspect of the growing process.

However, if stress increases beyond a certain level, individuals begin to buckle under the resulting pressure.

Leadership in the construction industry is generally perceived as stressful and thus the ability to handle stress is therefore relevant to both the selection of a leader and the decision by an individual as to whether to seek or accept a leadership role.

Unfortunately, the level of stress that people can handle varies significantly by individual and in consequence it is difficult to predict whether a stranger will be able to handle the stress associated with a given position.

Only a select few are able to soak up the anguish of the world like a sponge, with little effort on their visible appearance or personal well-being.

Thus, even for those leaders of construction companies during these difficult times, who are able to handle a good deal of stress, they must eventually master some method for releasing the pressure that it builds.

There is also little predictability in the stress associated with the jobs or social positions of a given sort. It cannot be assumed that there is more stress associated with the job of bank president than with the job of janitor in a mall.

In part, this is because there are subjective elements to stress. It is as much the product of one’s mind as it is the product of what one is doing or the circumstances in which those things are done.

Leaders are most required in critical situations, which means demands for leadership are likely to coincide with times of greatest stress.

Stress affects not only the leader, but the organization and its individual members as well. Leaders must remain focused on the goals that have been set.

They must continue to behave rationally when all around them have given up hope. A person who is unable to handle stress is unsuited to leadership, no matter what other positive qualities that person may possess.

There is no benefit in appointing a person to a leadership position if that person will buckle under the first strains that arise on encountering a problem.

It follows that the ability to handle stress must be evidenced in all individuals who are considered for a leadership role and no person should seek out such a position without first learning how to deal with stress.

Leaders must remain cool under pressure. They must not appear to be shaken by every little upset that comes along. The leadership of an organization should remain focused on the strategic goals that have been set and on implementing the game plan, despite the periodic setbacks that occur.

Above all, they must continue to behave, and to appear to behave, in a rational manner.

Beyond dealing with their own stress, leaders must be capable of dealing effectively with the stress of those who are under their command.

Perhaps in no other setting is this need so clearly brought home as with respect to military leaders.

As the US Army Field Manual observes, in a war key objectives of each side is to increase the stress to which the other is subjected. The ability to control combat stress can be the deciding factor between victory and defeat.

Training soldiers to withstand the various factors of battle that contribute to stress is therefore of critical importance.

Controlled combat stress (when properly focused by training, unit cohesion and leadership) gives soldiers the necessary alertness, strength and endurance to accomplish their mission.

Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.

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