If you think being a fleet manager is stressful, try being a Navy SEAL. Former Navy SEAL Robert O'Neill, best known for claiming to have shot Osama bin Laden, recently wrote a new book entitled, “The Operator.” One element of the book explains how SEAL training helps deal with highly stressful situations. Can any of these strategies be used by fleet managers? I think so. Are they a panacea? No. But, like taking a medication, these strategies will help mitigate the pain and redirect you to focus on specific goals, which, in my mind, is the key to successful stress management.
As O’Neill writes: “Stress is the bag of bricks you can pick up in the morning and let it weigh you down or you can just not pick it up. A lot of it’s in your mind.”
As with most things in life, success is often contingent upon your mental outlook. Is that proverbial glass half full or half empty? Often, your initial stressful reaction is the wrong reaction. According to O’Neill, a Navy SEAL is trained to respond to a situation, not to react to it, which is a good strategy for fleet managers, especially in dealing with management.
Another takeaway, and perhaps the most important one from O’Neill is that most of what you worry about doesn’t ever happen.
This is an important observation that deserves repeating:
Most of what you worry about doesn’t ever happen.
Focusing on Fulfilling the Mission
Another military dictum is, “The mission comes first.” In the case of fleet management, mission is synonymous to goal. What is your goal as fleet manager? Is it your foremost work priority? You need to focus. You need to become goal-oriented. Or, in the parlance of a Navy SEAL, you need to focus on fulfilling the mission.
To minimize stress, a fleet manager must be a master of time management. A fleet manager’s customers range from upper management to drivers in the field. You have to manage your time to satisfy corporate and driver needs. Not doing so will create self-inflected stress. Develop the discipline in day-to-day tasks to focus on the important without being consumed by the urgent.
As an addendum, no matter what you do, somebody won’t like it and they’ll be sure to let you (and others) know. Learn to absorb constructive criticism because, when you’re overseeing an asset that is used by other departments, there is a lot of second guessing about your decisions. Don’t upset yourself over these issues and become stressed out. Learn to roll with the punches.
When setting strategic goals, you also need to develop the tactics to implement them. Focus on being goal-oriented in all aspects of fleet management, including driver productivity, safety, accident management, and so forth. Link fleet to the company’s overall mission and keep management informed as to how fleet is helping improve the corporate mission. A fleet manager validates his or her importance day-in and day-out by cost-effectively managing hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars of assets and controlling the expenses associated with operating these assets.
Stress from Ever-Increasing Volume of E-mails
Most fleet communications nowadays is via e-mail, which has become a key contributor to fleet manager stress. According to one study, more than a third of all employees feel stressed by the volume of e-mails they receive and their perceived obligation to respond quickly. Fleet managers are especially prone to e-mail stress. “I receive an average of 60 e-mails a day and I only have a 200-car fleet,” said one fleet manager to illustrate e-mail volume.
The universal complaint is the ever-increasing volume of unread e-mails that keep piling up and the stress this causes because fleet managers feel they are not being responsive. A different fleet manager told me: “At any given time, I have about 400 unanswered e-mails in my inbox waiting to be answered. This requires me to set a priority in both reading and answering e-mails. This is the way of life for most fleet managers. I do not see it changing any time soon.” Responding to e-mails now extends beyond normal work hours. Vacations now include a laptop or smartphone to keep up with e-mail; otherwise, there is a sea of e-mails to sift and read upon returning to work. Trying to keep up with a stream of incoming e-mail interrupts work priorities. You need to practice e-mail triage – focus first on the important e-mails, then later on the less urgent ones.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Most fleet managers are overworked and have more work than can be accomplished in an eight-hour day. Most fleet managers are dedicated to their job, but, to avoid stress, don't overwhelm yourself by fretting about your workload. One fleet manager told me, he religiously works 8-5 because he will never get help if he works extra-hours or weekends to stay current. You need to prioritize tasks and not sweat the small stuff: Focus on the truly important tasks, accomplish them, and let the rest slide. For those who know me, your response to me may be to practice what you preach. All I can say is I’m working on it. It’s tough, but I’m staying focused on my priorities. It’s a work in progress.
In closing, there’s one important takeaway to remember:
Most of the stuff you worry about doesn’t ever happen.
Let me know what you think.