Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors
November 15, 2017  |  ByMark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Competing in the digital age requires distributors to have the right mindset about technology, opportunities and threats. Leaders and their teams must be able to embrace change, push their companies forward and still remain faithful to their customers and employees. On one hand, if one pushes too hard, it is possible to drive change too fast and then negatively impact the business. On the other hand, if one waits too long, customers and suppliers may move on and embrace other channels. All of this can create a stressful situation for teams responsible for driving change. If not managed correctly, stress can negatively impact a leader’s effectiveness and ability to steward change.

Managing uncertainty, risk and stress is an important issue for distributor leaders and their teams, but not in my wheelhouse for working with distributors. So, I reached out to an expert on health, stress and business results, Irina Fursman of Odysseys into Wellbeing. Irina has a long history, at companies and as a consultant, of working in distribution-intensive industries to create business-focused growth strategies. Today, she has refocused her practice on helping leaders drive change, but from the place of being ready to endure and thrive. She offers a unique perspective, one that distributor executives may want to factor into their plans to drive organizational change as leaders, through their people and teams, and across the entire business.

With this in mind, I asked Irina three questions:

1. Why should distributor leaders pay attention to stress and health during periods of change?

FURSMAN: A response to market threats frequently requires CEOs and their executive teams to be proactive stewards of business model innovation. Creativity, innovative thinking, high energy, a strong immune system and a focused and clear mind are critical for that. These factors are all negatively affected by chronic stress.

Cognitively, in the face of stress, the higher-thinking functions of the brain (abstract thinking, thought analysis, decision making, and so forth) are halted, allowing more primitive parts of the brain to take over. This can cause a tendency among business leaders to default to their habitual ways of thinking and to solutions that have worked for them in the past, rather than pursue new business models. Stress also gives us a tunnel-vision perspective, further inhibiting creativity.

Physiologically, under chronic stress, our bodies get continuously flooded with stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can lead to all sorts of problems with energy, exhaustion, weight gain, muscle breakdown, hormone imbalances, weakened immune system, brain fog and other undesirable outcomes. If not resolved, these can lead to chronic disease. But even long before the symptoms of disease appear, these can adversely affect an executive’s general well-being, productivity and effectiveness.

2. What can distribution leaders do to make sure stress does not hold back digital progress?

FURSMAN: It is important for business leaders to fuel and support their bodies and minds the right way so they have what they need to design and implement change in their organizations. Integrating a few simple self-care practices into their daily lives can go a long way in helping CEOs and their operating teams boost their energy, increase their stamina and mental resilience, sharpen their focus and strengthen their immune system. Eliminating hidden stressors that we can control is also a critical step. Another element of this is to shift the perception of a stressful event from a threat to an opportunity. Such change in mindset can also help lower the impact of stress on the body and mind. A lot of this is specific to the individual of course, since the effects of stress are cumulative and most executives will usually have stressors coming from other areas of their lives besides business. That’s why we help folks create and implement personalized self-care systems uniquely targeted to their circumstances.

3. Can you give examples of self-care practices to help distributor leaders stay healthy as they lead their organizations through change?

FURSMAN: There are many self-care practices that business leaders can implement to stay healthy and productive. Here are three changes CEOs and their teams can start making right away.

  • Something as simple as a good night’s sleep can do miracles for performance, productivity and sound decision-making. Most executives believe they can function well on 5–6 hours of sleep. They don’t realize that they too need at least 7 hours of sleep to have a strong immune system that will effectively protect them from viruses and infections. Our bodies need this time to renew and detoxify, get rid of unhealthy cells and make new, healthy ones.
  • Drinking a glass of lukewarm or warm lemon water first thing in the morning has many benefits and goes a long way toward keeping us hydrated and healthy.
  • So often I see executives start their day with foods that do not provide the steady fuel needed to match their daily mental and physical energy demands. Choosing breakfasts packed with protein, healthy fats, and protective micronutrients is essential for steady energy, stable blood sugar and a clear mind.

Feedback on This Post?

This post goes in a different direction for driving digital change, one that I thought might start a new conversation about the people side of driving change. I would welcome your feedback and experiences. If you would like to share, please reach out to me at

Two more resources you will find helpful…

  • Check out my just-released digital research report for NAW, CEO Insights on Innovating the Distributor for the Digital Age. I know it will spur you to take action on your digital transformation journey.
  • Attend this SAP-sponsored December 7 webinar that I’ll be leading titled, “Digital Technology Is Making a Difference: Are You Still on the Sidelines?”
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Mark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer founded the Network for Business Innovation to drive awareness, advocacy and excellence for B2B innovation, and to enable an exchange of ideas between leaders on business transformation, technology adoption, social impact and community engagement. For more than 30 years, Mark has worked with leading companies to achieve go-to-market excellence across a wide range of industries in developed and emerging markets.