Executive Insights | March 2013 | By Brendan O’Brien

Kick the Stress Out

Dealing with stress is one way to ensure success and longevity in the fast-paced quick-service industry.

Pancheros president Rodney Anderson says exercise helps fight stress.
Pancheros president Rodney Anderson says exercise is an effective way to fight the stress that comes with quick-service leadership. Pancheros
Bookmark/Share this post with:
Email this story Email this story
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Read More About

Quick-service leaders have a lot on their plate, from running complex organizations and overseeing financials to being the voice and face of their concepts.

But as they juggle these responsibilities and wade through the myriad daily decisions they need to make, something threatens to derail everything: stress.

“Stress is the enemy of creativity,” says James Campbell Quick, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Texas at Arlington. He says that while mild stress is intended to help individuals cope with imminent threats and dangerous situations, being overly stressed can zap people of drive and problem-solving skills.

Quick says one of the ways CEOs can combat stress is through regular exercise, which strengthens the cardiovascular system and allows the body to deal with pressure and demands.

Another option is getting a solid eight hours of sleep each night, he says. However, fitting both sleep and exercise into an executive’s hectic schedule, which often includes travel, can be difficult.

“I’ve learned to get enough exercise even when I’m on the road, and I make sure that I get enough sleep,” says Rodney Anderson, president of Iowa-based Pancheros Mexican Grill. “You come to the realization that it is going to be the same way week in and week out, and it’s not like you can overdo it one week and recover the next.”

Taking advantage of time off and participating in pastimes such as golf, running, and skiing are also keys to staying refreshed and stress-free, Quick says. Anderson says he takes several three-day weekends throughout the year to spend quality time with his family without the pressures of work bearing down on him.

Quick also suggests that quick-service CEOs allow themselves routine 10–15-minute timeouts twice a day for prayer or meditation.

“The stress response is designed for emergencies and for peak performance. It’s a gift,” Quick says. “The flip side of it is the relaxation response, which resets the entire psycho-physiological [system].”

CEOs should also take advantage of friends and family, Quick says, adding that tapping into a network of good relationships for quick chats, a drink, or a meal can be an effective stress buster.

“Family and friends are some of the best buffers we have against the stress and demands of the world, and they are powerful in terms of long-term well-being and longevity,” he says.

CEOs are also finding it increasingly helpful to use technology, such as tablets, as a way to stay connected to their headquarters or restaurants while traveling or out of the office, reducing the stress that formerly came from being disconnected.

“It used to be you get the e-mail on your Blackberry when you are out visiting restaurants and you had it in the back of your mind that you had to [answer the e-mail] when you get to the hotel,” Anderson says. “Now with a tablet, you get three-quarters of that done before you get to the hotel, and there is a lot less pressure at 9 or 10 at night.”

Andy Wiederhorn, CEO of California-based Fatburger, says he deals with stress by simply not sweating the small stuff and having a good sense of humor about the job and the industry. “You sort of have to take a 40,000-foot view that you can’t take this all too seriously, because as soon as you start worrying about every little thing all of the time, you will drive yourself nuts,” he says. “You kind of have to let the issues roll off your back when you are done with them.”

Wiederhorn says having six kids at home ranging in age from 12 to 25 years old, along with a wife who refuses to let him bring work problems home, also helps him maintain a healthy perspective.

“They might be excited about the newest milkshake flavor, but certainly not whether the supplier is going to deliver through the supply chain and distribute properly on time, … so that helps me realize not to take it too seriously,” he says.

Not only can stress cause physical and psychological problems, but it can also strip leaders of their ability to think creatively and critically. As difficult as it can be, Quick says, leaders should forget about the problem when creative juices stop flowing and they hit a stress-induced creative wall.

“Just walk away from the wall,” he says. “I mean almost literally, walk away from the wall.”

Wiederhorn says he heeds this recommendation when making strategic decisions, which ultimately helps lead to a less-stressful work environment. “Rushing to push everything out the door when you don’t think that you have an ideal answer is a mistake,” he says. “You have to be content with saying that you want to stop and pull over to the side of the road and revisit an [issue] in a few weeks.”

Pancheros’ Anderson says building a strong team that effectively deals with day-to-day operations frees him up to deal creatively with big-picture issues and solutions. Another way he finds inspiration when hitting a creative wall is by getting out in the field, visiting restaurants, and meeting with franchisees and managers.

“If I get stuck in the office on some project, I kind of lose sight of the customer,” Anderson says. “I’ve got to know what is happening in the store. … It makes me focus on what is important.”