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March 23, 2015

How to Lead Under Pressure

Katherine Baldwin

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Copy of Leadership in the Crucible of Work Cover_80

Authenticity is something I've become very interested in as my career has progressed. I loved being a news journalist for many years but towards the end of my last post, as a reporter on British politics, I began to realize my interest in that kind of work had waned.

It no longer seemed in line with the person I wanted to be, with my authentic self. I started to enjoy it less, feel less committed, and, as I did so, I became less productive. Perhaps I was the only one who noticed, but that made it worse. I felt I was hiding something – hiding the real me, pretending to be someone I wasn't.

As I've branched out into other things, I've realized how important it is to do work that's in line with my authentic self, work I feel passionate about and committed to. I work harder, I'm more interested, I'm happier, and I'm more fulfilled. I feel like I'm being of service.

Of course, it's not easy to focus solely on this kind of work. Every job has aspects that are more or less interesting. But I must be doing some work that reflects who I am and what's in my heart or I'll feel dissatisfied.

This is one of the messages I heard in "Leadership in the Crucible of Work" by leadership expert Sandy Shugart. Like me, Shugart is interested in authenticity, in staying true to ourselves, and in doing work that makes a difference or is of service in some way.

The problem, as he points out, is that the stresses and strains of a high-pressure working environment – the crucible, or melting pot, to use his analogy – can often lead us away from our authentic selves. We can end up behaving in ways we're not proud of, becoming someone we don't want to be.

We're particularly at risk of doing this if we over-identify with our career or role, or our organization's performance. We can become controlling and resist criticism, feel tempted to cover up mistakes, and struggle to admit when we've got things wrong. The goal, Shugart says, is to find a healthy level of engagement with our work.

So how do we do that? You can hear some of his tips in this audio clip, from our review of this book.


Listen to the full Book Insight in the Mind Tools Club ¦ Install Flash Player.

I like the idea of seeing jobs as just one of the many projects we'll do over the course of our professional lives. This attitude helps us step back a bit and it lowers the stakes when it comes to success or failure.

This got me thinking about the book I'm trying to write, or should I say still trying to write! Perhaps I've over identified with it. Maybe if I just saw it as the first of many books, or one of a number of big projects I'll take on in future years, I'd write it faster.

And maybe if I wasn't quite so afraid of judgment or criticism, or fearful that such criticism would "knock me for six," it'd be easier to get this project "done and dusted" and move on to the next. Shugart has really got me thinking about this. I may not be a leader or a CEO, but I really liked reading his ideas on maintaining a healthy distance from our work.

Shugart also offers some great tips on steering organizations through storms or challenging times. He suggests laying the foundations of a strong community and building a sense of "we’re all in this together" well before the storm hits. You can imagine trying to instill that kind of community thinking when the ship is about to sink. It'd be too late.

I also agree with his ideas on sharing information openly during a crisis. Too many times, employees are kept in the dark, wondering if they're about to lose their jobs, while leaders huddle in windowless rooms with the doors closed.

As one of those leaders, you may not have all the facts – you may not know what comes next – but keep everyone informed. Rumors spread like wildfire and speculation can be very damaging.

"Leadership in the Crucible of Work" will make readers reflect on their character, attitude and behavior. It'll prompt them to ask themselves whether they're harnessing the stresses and pressures of work to become stronger, more authentic leaders, or whether they're allowing themselves to be corroded, warped or led astray. It'll also prompt them to take a close look at the health of their organizations, and ask whether they're ready to weather the inevitable storms.

This isn't a How To book or a leadership manual. You won't find any 10-point plans here. But you will find sound advice on how to become a better leader, along with plenty of thought-provoking questions.

How can you harness the pressures of your work to evolve and grow into a better leader? Join in the discussion below!

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5 comments on “How to Lead Under Pressure”

  1. Katerine, you raise an excellent point about authenticity and leadership.

    Many great leaders are in that position because they want to lead, direct, inspire, and help others achieve great things. So, if you can be authentic and be true to yourself, you can more effectively by true for others such as in a leadership position.

    For me, this just makes a better leader whether it is in a pressure situation or not.

  2. Good leaders under pressure will instil confidence in the team and create trust. They communicate a clear goal, a clear plan, align the available resources, set the team and individuals clear tasks/roles and execute. Give credit for progress to the team and accept personal responsibility for set backs.

  3. It is quite essential for every human being to keep a leadership attitude in their behavior; it helps us in various ways and in various moments. Leadership quality really brings some positive change in our personality so we need to improve it in our personality; but lead under pressure is really a great achievement for an individual he or she can get everything if he or she can do better under pressure. A leader is capable to take good decision and deal with different situation; there are several ways to develop our leadership quality and skills but I hope this below link will more beneficial for us;

    1. Hi Paul,
      You make a good point about the true grit of a good leader is how they perform under pressure. Being able to be in a stressful / high pressure situation yet still remain calm, positive and clear with everyone is a true measure of a good leader!

      Thanks for the link, it looks interesting.

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