LEADERSHIP: Leadership Under Pressure

Evan’s dilemma is. . . .

“We missed an important deadline at work and the “you know what, hit the fan.” Customers were angry, and my boss was flipping out. I don’t have a big team, but I’m pretty sure they saw the panic on my face that day. How do I learn to keep my composure during a crisis?”

Thanks, Evan

That’s a great question. Leading under pressure is not only a regular occurrence but it’s an important differentiator between a manager and a leader. How we react to unforeseen problems can reveal what we’re truly made of. It’s during this time of crisis that our team will be looking to us for reassurance and direction. It’s important to resolve the crisis in a timely fashion, but it’s even more important that we be the calming force for our team when they need it the most.


So, how DO we lead under pressure?


The short answer is, the same as you would when you aren’t under pressure. If anything, we must be even more focused than we are normally. Merriam Webster describes pressure as, “the burden of physical or mental distress.” The type of pressure most of us see is self-imposed mental distress based on a tight deadline, an unhappy customer or a heavy workload. While we can’t always control the catalyst for the pressure, we CAN control how we react to it. Leaders who are self-aware, are not only in tune with their predisposed behavior but they have the ability to regulate that behavior in times of crisis.


Let’s review some actions we can take to ensure success when we’re under pressure.


  1. Eliminate emotion.

Don’t let your nerves or fears trip you up because its Super Bowl time. Remember, that you earned the right to be in the big game, so perform like you belong there. Our fears can’t overwhelm us if we choose not to let them. How can our team maintain their composure under pressure, if their leader can’t?


“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to look fear in the eye and push forward anyway.”


  1. Eliminate outside noise.

What I mean is to simply focus on the task at hand. In times of crisis, ensure that you clear your plate and your team’s plate of extraneous tasks. This will maximize your chance of success with the higher priority issue.


  1. Enlist your army.

As leaders, our teams are our biggest asset. It’s important that we don’t allow the urgent nature of the task to prevent us from looking for ways to work in parallel, and get to the finish line faster. Our team will not only facilitate a quicker outcome, but the added pressure will foster their growth as well.


  1. Communicate early and often.

Communicate the high pressure task to your team, and ensure you explain why it’s so important. Let them know that despite the added pressure, you truly believe in them and in their ultimate success. Also, communicate that you’ll be there with them, and for them, throughout the endeavor. The critical nature of the task dictates that we check in more often not just to ensure we are on track, but to reassure our teams as well.


  1. Act deliberately.

It’s important to not overreact to the pressure and head in the wrong direction. It’s better to stop, assess the situation and formulate a plan. It can’t always be a comprehensive plan, but it’s best to act only after some level of deliberation has occurred.


  1. Look out for icebergs.

We can’t be so engrossed in bailing water to stay afloat that we fail to see the iceberg ahead.

While we may not have time to perform a full risk analysis, we shouldn’t allow our sense of urgency to make us oblivious to risk mitigation. The faster we go, the more likely we are to make a mistake.



Fear and shear panic can cause us to react emotionally and rashly in pressure situations. False starts and “do-overs” are the likely outcomes. Great leaders take the time to check their emotions and assess the problem before reacting. Traversing a mine field more quickly may produce a faster outcome, but it may not be the outcome we expect.


Do you agree? Let me know what you think. I would love to hear your unique perspective.


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