Leading under pressure
By C. Fredrick Crum

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Yes, it has been said that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. The question is how do they get going? How do leaders respond when they are under pressure?


How do leaders in your organization typically respond to pressure?
  • 1. Screaming and yelling
  • 2. Blaming and firing others
  • 3. Remaining calm and composed

We are not referring to physical pressure, like that which is exerted on a professional weightlifter. We are referring to pressure — the invisible mental state causing stress. This type of pressure is often caused internally due to your drive to succeed and externally by forces such as time lines, competitors, poor results, crisis situations or just plain bad news.

A leader's true colors come out when he or she is under pressure, especially extreme pressure. I have witnessed some leaders react to situations and issues by screaming, yelling, having tantrums, bullying, blaming and firing others. I have also witnessed others respond in a calm manner, approaching the issues with what I consider great leadership skill.

Effective leaders excel under pressure. They choose to respond rather than react. These executives are able to turn negatives into advantages and turn challenges into opportunities. They channel and control pressure to produce positive results and move processes and/or organizations forward.

So how do these effective leaders excel under pressure?

First, they know what events cause them pressure. It is not the same for everyone. What causes you stress may not bother someone else or vise versa. For some, it is the pressure exerted by stockholders and the board. For others, stress may be caused by a promotion or new competitors. You must learn what your individual stressors are to be able to combat them. Once you know and can anticipate your stressors, you will be able to respond more appropriately.

Effective leaders also have total self control of their thought process. Every exemplary leader I have ever worked with has established a mental process or protocol for handling pressure and decision-making. These processes and protocols, in simplest form, are mental checklists. These executives created their personal decision-making protocol before they needed to implement them. (Just like schools and businesses have tornado drills.)

The most effective leaders I have worked with utilize and practice their personal protocols daily. This professional practice enables these executives to remain calm, slow down and stay true to their core beliefs in pressure situations.

How ever you choose to respond, I must caution you that your employees will emulate your actions. Like it or not, your employees will mimic your response to pressure. They will model your behavior. How you respond under pressure will continually shape the culture and climate of your organization.

C. Fredrick Crum is the president and founder of Effective Leadership Now.Org. He has spent more than 30 years working with leaders and leadership teams to improve their performance.