5 Ways to Get Ahead While Keeping Your Cool

A remarkable four out of ten executives say they’d like to quit in the next year. How to avoid all the stress—but still move up the ladder.

It’s a difficult time to be an executive. Employees don’t want to come to work; a recession seems to be looming; misspeaking can tank your career. Last week, a Korn Ferry psychologist asked a CEO what has changed recently in his job, and he replied, “Everything. Literally everything.”

The long-term strain of all this is showing. A November study of executives found that 40% wanted to quit in the next twelve months, and 33% “don’t want to work anymore.” The stress levels driving those decisions are not benign: a 2021 study showed that an industry-wide downturn takes 1.5 years off the average CEO’s life.

Grinning and bearing it—or valiantly trudging through endless high-stakes meetings and deadlines, only to collapse at night, exhausted—is not the solution, say experts. “You’ll be firefighting the whole day,” says Binwa Sethi, client partner in leadership development, DEI, and executive coaching at Korn Ferry. We asked Korn Ferry experts for their guidance on how to sanely move forward through the pressure.

Make Work Friends.

Workplace friends are essential—particularly ones who tell you what you need to hear, not want to hear, says Sethi. Developing deep connections at work is pivotal, because neighbors, family, and non-work friends simply do not share your professional context. Sethi suggests calling friends to say, “What am I not seeing here? Please help me think this through.”

See the Glass as Half Full.

Optimism is the cardinal character trait of resilient people, says assessment and succession expert Miriam Nelson, senior client partner at Korn Ferry. Pessimists, on the other hand, tend to see problems as persistent and pervasive—then double down by “blaming themselves for failures,” she says. The good news: it is possible to reframe perceptions and self-beliefs to see challenges as opportunities.

Ground Yourself.

Sethi runs two miles every day, a practice that she finds essential for staying calm through days that can be unpredictable. Those long moments away from work also provide another benefit: when separating from problems and returning later, leaders tend to “handle matters more thoughtfully, and better manage their reactions,” says Nelson.

Cultivate Pause Moments.

Experts say to create quick moments of rest, whether that’s by scheduling meetings for 25 minutes and using the extra five minutes to step outside, or relaxing into the stillness of commute time. “Just giving yourself time to consciously breathe before you go into the next meeting is powerful,” says Sethi.

Find Mentors, Coaches, and Advisors. Lots of Them.

They’re not just there to help you achieve: discussions in which you clarify priorities, reflect, and re-energize will also lower stress, says business psychologist James Bywater, senior client partner at Korn Ferry. He advises establishing a network of these early on—coaches, mentors, counselors, and advisors, informal and formal. “Cultivate these,” he says. “Prune them over time, then add more.”


Learn more ways to accelerate your career at Korn Ferry Advance.