all resources & insights

Understand ‘Microstress,’ Say No to Being ‘Voluntold,’ and More – The Leadership That Works Newsletter

by | Apr 30, 2023

At ConantLeadership, we’re committed to lifelong learning and continuous improvement. In service to your leadership growth, each month we curate the Leadership That Works Newsletter, a digest of timely resources from around the web. We prepare this resource in order to:

  • Share actionable advice from top leadership luminaries
  • Celebrate a range of viewpoints worthy of consideration (inclusion is not an endorsement)
  • Contextualize workplace trends through a leadership lens
  • Illuminate cultural recalibrations in the world of work
  • Support your personal development in life, leadership, and beyond

In this month’s Leadership That Works Newsletter: Understanding ‘microstress,’ say no to being ‘voluntold,’ a framework for leading hybrid teams, how to conduct layoffs, and more. As alwayswe’re sharing the content from our newsletter here on our blog in case you’re not subscribed to our mailing list. If you find these links enriching, you can sign up to receive our newsletter right here.

‘Microstress’ Is a Stealthy Cause of Burnout

When leaders identify the causes of their workplace stress, they often pinpoint obvious culprits like quarterly numbers, a tough boss, layoffs, or overwork. But there are stealthier stressors, collectively known as “microstress,” that can fly under the radar. In this Quartz coverage of the new book, The Microstress Effect, “microstress” is defined as the “accumulation of tiny triggers we encounter in routine, everyday interactions.” These small triggers “imprint on your frontal lobe” more subtly than overt pressures and can silently pile up, causing “a feeling of overwhelm that we can’t find a cause for—one that can fast-track us to burnout.” To counteract the effects of microstress, it’s important to learn how to identify it.
Microstress comes in three forms:

  • Capacity-draining microstresses hold you back from getting things done
  • Emotion-depleting microstresses wear on your energy
  • Identity-challenging microstresses separate you from how you want to act

Once you begin to acknowledge and notice how microstress is depleting your energy, you are well-equipped to apply the authors’ tips and tools for managing stress and finding more balance. Get the full story here.

When You Didn’t Volunteer, You Were ‘Voluntold’

If you’ve ever found yourself roped into a task, project, or social obligation against your will, either by having “your hand raised for you,” or through deft persuasion, you may have been “voluntold,” says this Wall Street Journal coverage of the practice. The article offers tips for learning “the delicate art of ‘voluntelling,'” to get people to help youand also shares helpful tactics for saying no, “if you’re the one always being voluntold.”

To be the volunteller, “pose queries that guide the person down a path that inevitably ends at the destination of your choosing,” leaving strategic silences that cue the voluntellee “to shake their head yes or mutter ‘uh huh.'” Then, give the person choices as to how they will contribute and “don’t be tentative or apologetic.”

If you suspect you’re being voluntold and want to wriggle free, make sure to “say no with conviction.” A powerful way to make your “no” stick is not to make excuses, but rather, “tie your no to your identity,” and use the word “don’t.” For example, “I don’t lend money to family members.” Get the full story here(This article may appear behind a paywall.)

Beat Back Perfectionism to Get Stuff Done

At its core, perfectionism is about anxiety—you’re afraid of failing,” writes Morra Aarons-Mele in this TED piece about how to shift to a healthier mindset. While some leaders may wear their fastidiousness as a badge of honor, thinking it is why they are high-achieving, “the most highly successful people are actually less likely to be perfectionistic,” because perfectionism can impede progress and “make it difficult to bring any task to a conclusion.” Often, the worry and self-doubt at the heart of perfectionism can become “a comfortable habit” that’s holding you back rather than propelling you forward. So how to break the habit so you can take more risks and get more done? Aarons-Mele shares three tips to get started:

  • Find the motivation—reflect on what your fear is preventing you from pursuing
  • Isolate your inner critic—learn to calm your negative self-talk
  • Learn to set “enough” goals—dare to set more manageable goals and use appropriate effort

After re-assessing your priorities and giving yourself permission to not be amazing at everything, Aarons-Mele says, “You may just find that what you gain—more calm, easeful workdays, more unimpeded time and headspace—is worth what you’ll lose in so much anxious striving.” Get the full story here.

**For more on this, explore our incremental 6-step BLUEPRINT process for getting unstuck, which has ‘Forget Perfection” as its central rallying cry.

The CAARE Framework for Leading Hybrid Teams

“Leading teams of hybrid workers can be a double-edged sword because managers must satisfy employees’ desire for flexibility without compromising overall group effectiveness,” writes N. Sharon Hill in this MITSloan Management Review piece about leading the hybrid workforce. Because “hybrid work requires that leaders attend to both individual and group needs,” Hill proposes an “integrative framework,” called “CAARE,” that manages complexity “through four integrated components.” The CAARE framework combines the following elements:

  • Configuration
  • Autonomy and Alignment
  • Relationships
  • Equity

Hill says understanding how to use this framework can help “maintain organizational effectiveness while fostering the productivity and well-being of hybrid teams.” Get the full story and a detailed description of each of the four CAARE elements here.

**For more on this, explore our guiding principles for leading remote teams and check out our newsletter archive for many more links with tips for navigating hybrid work.

Are Companies Making Hiring Too Difficult?

Despite a softening labor market, the majority of companies are having trouble with hiringand it’s mostly their own fault says Sarah Green Carmichael in this Bloomberg piece. Carmichael writes: “For years, business leaders have complained about their struggles to fill jobs,” often blaming “the economy, or workers themselves, or even the US education system,” but, “there is a more obvious reason hiring is hard: Many companies just don’t do it well.” Looking at research and surveys, and talking to experts, Carmichael has found that many organizations “alienate prospective hires by subjecting them to a tortuous vetting process,” reject strong candidates who don’t adhere to every item on an “impossibly long list of requirements,” and “overlook qualified internal candidates in favor of outside talent.” The results are grim, leaving millions more job openings unfilled today than just a few years ago. Fortunately, by applying a little more discipline to talent acquisition, there are simple ways to improve: Experts suggest creating more focused job descriptions, shortening interview processes from months to weeks, and using data to track issues with hiring. Get the full story here.  

**For more on hiring, read our recent post, “Doug Conant and Malcolm Gladwell on the Future of Workplace Talent.”

‘Head and Heart’ Are Key to Transformations

In this McKinsey interview, Mars Inc. CEO Poul Weihrauch draws on his experience leading a successful transformation to share key leadership insights for today’s world. Weihrauch’s approach to transformational leadership is anchored in listening to the next generation “with your head and heart,” and extending that listening spirit to “your people, your customers, and your purpose,” all of which he says should be at the core of how you operate. He also advises using guiding principles to help steward transformations. At Mars, their five principles are “Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency, and Freedom,” and Weihrauch says they are “at the center of every decision we make.” He also says transformational CEOs should prepare for an ever-changing future in three essential ways:

1. Use “values and purpose,” as a guiding “moral compass.”
2.”Build for communities, not hierarchies.”
3. Embed sustainability “throughout the organization
—not in a single department, but as part of everything.”

Get the full story and all of Weihrauch’s tips for transformational leadership here.

**For more on this, check out Doug Conant and Mette Norgaard’s TouchPoints framework which helps you listen with your “head, heart, and hands.” Then, explore Doug Conant and Indra Nooyi’s conversation about how to be a transformational leader.  

Gen Z Is Redefining Prestige

Historically, some high-powered and lucrative industries have carried the most prestigious cachet for job-seeking graduates of top schools. In particular, “the rigorous fields of finance, consulting, medicine, and law,” have long been the most attractive sectors according to this BBC coverage of how Gen Z is redefining prestige. Now, as a new generation continues to enter the workforce, “experts and younger workers say what’s considered a high-status job may be expanding–and even becoming less relevant overall.” While higher pay and profile remain alluring, especially as living costs skyrocket, many young candidates are also emphasizing “corporate values, flexibility, autonomy, and freedom from long-hours.” Increasingly, Gen Z is defining a “prestigious” job as “one that enhances their own life,” and is conducive to “the lifestyle they want,” and this perspective is being embraced by older generations too. Companies looking to market themselves as “prestigious” to younger prospects should keep in mind that this generation cares most about working somewhere that “aligns with their values and passion.” Get the full story here.

How to Conduct Layoffs

As layoffs continue to capture the news cycle, it’s become clear some companies are handling them better than others. While there’s no way to defang layoffs completely or make them painless for those affected, there is “a right way and wrong way to communicate about layoffswhether that’s to the people who are losing their jobs or those that remain at the organization afterward,” says this helpful Ragan explainer on how to conduct layoffs with compassion. There are three principles that can help leaders get these awkward conversations right.

1. Transparency as the foundation: “When a layoff does happen, don’t beat around the bush—be direct . . . it’s important to tell both affected employees and those who remain at the company after the fact the reasoning behind the decision.”
2. Leadership matters—as does how the news is broken: In the aftermath, both departing and remaining employees “will want answers from their leaders,” and “the level of tact leaders take in communicating these layoffs goes a long way toward maintaining goodwill and building cultural unity.”
3. Choosing the right words: Communicate with respect and “be extremely selective with word choice,” opting for “empathetic words,” and taking care that every employee is “celebrated for their contributions to the organization.”

To salvage morale, focus on compassion and kindness whenever possible throughout the process. Get the full story and a more detailed explanation of each principle here.

Insights & Resources from ConantLeadership

In this new blog, learn why humility is key to building authentic leadership connection and get 3 tips for honing your humility practice.


In this conversation on the ‘Introvert Ally’ podcast, Doug Conant shares actionable tips for  listening better and leading more effectivelyuseful for extroverted and introverted leaders alike.


In this recent blog, learn why Doug Conant and Malcolm Gladwell say that character is the most powerful competitive advantage in the new landscape of workplace talent.


March’s Leadership That Works Newsletter

In last month’s newsletter: The secret to giving tough feedback, why you might need a career break, the 5 Rs of ‘The Great Reset,’ how to harness the power of age diversity, and more.


Did You Miss The BLUEPRINT Leadership Summit?

This April, ConantLeadership hosted the 5th biannual BLUEPRINT Leadership Summit, a week-long special event bringing together the top leadership minds and luminaries in the business space.

If you missed it, no worries—we’ve linked all available recordings below. And you can also access our library of previous summit sessions here including conversations with Brené Brown, Susan Cain, Indra Nooyi, Amy Edmondson, and many more.

RECORDINGS (Fast forward to roughly minute 5 to skip intros and housekeeping)

Amy FedermanAbout the Author: Amy Federman is ConantLeadership’s Director of Content and Editor in Chief, and co-author with Doug Conant of the WSJ bestseller, The Blueprint.

(Cover photo by Ian Talmacs on Unsplash)

Doug Conant is remarkable—and so is this work.
– Stephen M. R. Covey
Author of The Speed of Trust

The Blueprint

The Blueprint

6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights

By Douglas Conant with Amy Federman

Have Doug Speak at Your Event

Doug works collaboratively with event organizers to customize his material for each audience.