Pressure. We are all feeling it. We have never been through anything like this. All of us are experiencing global economic, political, cultural, and health issues. And while everyone is feeling the pressure, leaders especially have to withstand even greater amounts as they deal with their own internal problems, in addition to those of their organization and their team members. How a leader handles pressure is a true test of their metal. Two things can happen when an object is put under pressure. They become stronger like a diamond or crumble into dust. What happens with you? What is revealed about your leadership under pressure?
Two things can happen when an object is put under pressure. They become stronger like a diamond, or crumble into dust. What happens with you? What is revealed about your leadership under pressure?
Your leadership under pressure
This topic came to mind while in a conversation with some friends last week. I was reminded of good and bad bosses I have had in the past. The “bad bosses” were the ones who crumbled under pressure. When a key client was lost or a project when off the rails, they became unbearable to work with. When faced with these challenges, they turned to blame, anger, and fear-mongering.
They didn’t coach, they cajoled. They didn’t encourage, they threatened. In short, pressure turned them to dust.
But I have had other bosses that were great to work for under pressure. They encouraged us. They listened to ideas. We worked together as a team to craft new strategies and approaches. These bosses weren’t perfect. But, we were able to work together to come out better on the other side. Kind of like that piece of coal that becomes a diamond over time. We came out better on the other side.
Three keys to developing strong leadership under pressure
The basic tenants of strong leadership haven’t changed. I wrote about the need for strong leadership in a post a couple of months ago. And that need is still present.
With leaders, the pressure is even greater. Under pressure, the leadership dynamics are far more critical for teams. As leaders we need to be:
- Calming & Confident
As leaders, we need to be men and women of great vision. Our team members are facing the battle every day. They wake up to the news of giving numbers of cases and deaths. They learn about what they can and cannot do in society. And then they hear about riots and demonstrations from the night before. All of this is then brought with them, to work.
When they arrive with this baggage they are looking at you for leadership. They want to hear something good. They want to have a purpose and find a reason to focus on something better. This is where visionary leadership comes in.
As a visionary, we must be optimistic. And I love what Simon Sinek had to say about optimism. He said, “Optimism is not a denial of the current state, it’s a belief that the future is bright”.
And can’t we all at least believe that? As a leader, we need to paint a picture of what the future can be. Give your team members a reason to hope. Give them a reason to perform.
I am not saying we deny reality and give them false expectations. It’s just that we need to challenge them to step up, work hard, and deliver on the commitment that you all have made. If the company needs to adapt, ask them to adapt with it. If the company pivots, ask them to pivot with you. Therefore, you bring them into the conversation and make them part of the solution.
If you have followed my writings or participated in my workshops, you know that I am passionate about emotional intelligence (EQ). I believe EQ is one of the most essential traits of good leaders. It is truly one of the highest indicators of performance that you can find.
And while EQ has four or five key components, one of the most essential ones is empathy. And right now, leaders must be empathetic. Your employees are likely dealing with far more burdens than just those you see on the job. There are economic concerns of other family members (wife lost her job, kids had to move back in with them, etc.). Health concerns of elderly parents, which have been magnified if they are in senior care facilities. Consequently, they are likely carrying burdens far beyond the concerns they are facing at work.
Leaders need to be attuned to what is going on in their team members’ lives. Don’t pry, but listen for clues. If the door is opened, ask what else is going on and allow them to share. Active listening is the key skill here. Get to know your team members’ behavior styles. Some will want to share, others will not. Meet them where they are and allow them to open up to the amount they are comfortable with.
Lean into your team members right now. And then connect what they are doing to the vision (previous point). Help them to find purpose, even during these tough times.
Calming & Confident
And these are tough times. Let’s not kid ourselves.
Another word we hear a lot these days is “transparency”. Some believe that transparent leaders simply bare their souls to their employees all the time. That’s not what transparency is.
Simon Sinek gives some advice here as well. He says transparency means sharing the appropriate things in context.
We simply can’t share every detail of everything going on in our business and our personal lives with our employees. If we did, they would probably be more panicked than we are. Most team members are incapable of handling the concerns, pressures, and issues that you do. That’s why you are the leader, and they are not.
What we must be able to do is to share the appropriate amount of information in the context of what we need them to do. For example, you might share that sales are down, and give them new targets giving changing market conditions. This is reasonable. But sharing how much money was lost and that the company cannot sustain three more months of this would ensue panic.
Similarly, you can share that you applied for and received a PPP or EIDL loan. You probably do not want to share that the company was two weeks from not being able to make payroll.
Remember that most of our team members can handle bad news. They can even handle a certain level of uncertainty. But what they cannot handle is a vacuum of information. If you do not share anything, they will make it up. They will create a new reality, whether it is based on reality or not.
So, as a leader, you need to be able to confidently share your what is going on. Admit where you have concerns. Be transparent about where you are looking for answers. And encourage them to help. Be empathetic in your communications and connect it to the vision.
Now is the time
Now is the time for you as a leader. How is your leadership under pressure? Are you going to come out shining like a diamond? Or will you crumble into dust?
If you focus on these three things, you can withstand the pressure and come out on the other side. And, just like that diamond, you’ll be more valuable, more distinct, and more resilient under pressure than ever before.
Good luck to you. I wish you the best. If you need to talk to someone about strengthening your leadership under pressure, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.