A leadership tip for coping with stress

This CEO uses the concept of a 'sympathy window' to handle the hard times.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 18 Feb 2019

There’s a myth that leaders have to be immune to the mental pressures that come with their position. Even if they weren't, they don't have time for things like mindfulness alongside the weight of keeping a positive balance sheet, maintaining morale and safeguarding the interests of all stakeholders...

The truth is, bosses with this attitude either suffer in silence or burnout.

CEOs are human after all, and effective ones have their own ways - however subtle - of letting off steam and coping with the highs and lows that come with running a business.

Jon Goulding, the CEO of independent ad agency Atomic London is no different. The former Omnicom Group COO admits that the fast paced, fiercely competitive and increasingly disrupted world of advertising often leaves him feeling ‘a bit broken’.

He says he uses what he terms as a ‘sympathy window’ to help him stay sane.

"I stole the concept from a golf-pro friend of mine. He used something similar to help him deal with the mental trauma of missing a vital putt during an important tournament and it seemed to me to be a brilliant coping mechanism to process disappointment.

"The 'sympathy window' exists somewhere between me waking up and my feet touching the carpet. Rather than trying as I did for so many years to try and simply ‘shrug off’ my negative feelings, I force myself to go through a simple three step thought process before I get out of bed.

"Firstly I try to analyse but not criticise the negative things that happened the day before whatever it may be. As my golf-pro friend said so clearly, there’s zero value in looking back with regret. You have to focus your energy of working out a plan for what you’ll do next.

"Secondly I try to channel my emotions by deciding on the one positive thing I’ll do that day to help me fix the problem. I selfishly make sure it’s also something that gives me a confidence boost.

"Finally I try to remind myself to stick with the plan and that the lows in business are inevitable in order for you to achieve the highs. It’s just part of the journey to where you’re trying to get to.

"I’m not saying it’s easy, and that’s why I call it a sympathy window. On occasion it’s taken me more than 20 minutes to get out of bed with enough mental strength to face the day. But once my feet hit the carpet, it’s like a mental switch to tell myself ‘Right, game face, let’s go to work’."

Further reading

Image credits: rudall30/gettyimages


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