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Take your work from stressful to impactful

Thomas J. Bussen ( is a Professor of International Business at the African Leadership University in Rwanda and a cross-cultural management coach.

Mark Whitacre, the man whose actions inspired three books and a film starring Matt Damon (The Informant!), spoke to me about workplace stress,[1] a timely topic, with as many as 94% of US workers suffering from it in 2019.[2] Even before pandemic disruptions, studies show that more than half of Americans experience stress nearly every workday, a rate 20% higher than seen outside of the United States.[3] And according to Oracle, the year 2020 holds the ignominious title of most stressful ever.[4]

While this stress is a problem in and of itself, research also shows, repeatedly and clearly, that deviant workplace behaviors ranging from theft and fraud to mistreatment of coworkers all rise when employees experience workplace stress.[5] The questions then are what to do with all of this stress, and how can we help ourselves, our colleagues, and our employees?

Whitacre knows something about stress. He infamously spent three years working undercover for the FBI in the early ’90s, all while serving as the 4th ranked executive—out of 30,000 employees—at the multinational food-processing company Archer-Daniels-Midland Company (ADM).

Whitacre was nothing short of a wunderkind. One of the youngest people to graduate from Cornell University with a PhD in biochemistry. A senior executive by 32. He’d bought the CEO’s 13,000-square-foot house, filled up the eight-car garage, popped in and out of a corporate jet, and was adding seven figures in stock options and bonuses to his bank account annually. With his three superiors around twice his age, Whitacre reasonably anticipated his star climbing yet higher. Whitacre joked, “I was Justin Bieber before Justin Bieber. I really thought I was a movie star. In reality, it was probably the beginning of my demise.”

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