Imagine this …

You are a manager of a highly educated team of 10 specialists. You wake up on Monday morning – 6am – and check your mobile. You have an urgent red flagged email that came in last night. You are trying to hire a new colleague, a specialist in a critical area you have a gap, but she is being offered similar positions at competing organisations. It looks like your negotiations are falling through. You quickly fire off a respond to the recruiter that you will call him at 9am.

As you race to grab a coffee and breakfast, your mobile rings, it is one of your team members and she tells you that one of the Board Members has asked for a change in the presentation … the one to be delivered to the rest of the Board today at 11am. You sent it late on Friday evening, but it looks like you have to change it again! As she is telling you that, your children start arguing and fighting at the breakfast table. You tell her you will speak to her once you are in the office at 8.30am … fast forward a bit …

It is 8:30am and you step into the office building. Your mobile vibrates. It is a Whatsapp from your au pair asking where the spare house key is, she has lost hers. As you begin to type, you notice one of your other team members walking quickly over to you. He looks extremely distressed. You ask him if it can wait until the afternoon as you have to prepare for the weekly department stand-up at 9:30am. As he tries to respond, you suddenly see your manager and the Board Member arriving in the building. Your manager sees you, turns sharply and walks over to you looking pretty angry …

Recognisable? This is pretty much the type of pressure many people today are dealing with.

Being a leader means more pressure

As someone who leads, for example a leader or manager, you most probably got into your position due to your success throughout your career, performing every step of the way. As a top performer, your approach is to probably try keep improving and performing, and of course that ratchets up the pressure.

Pressure is a ‘necessary evil’

We as humans need pressure to perform and grow, but too much of it can stress us out and push us into our fight, flight or fright instincts. In this stage, all resources go to surviving and unfortunately away from our executive thinking capabilities. Not so useful especially in a business setting.

It is a known fact that as you move into a higher performance range, it becomes even more pressurised. The questions then is how do you manage that pressure.

Factors that build pressure

If you have performed in the past and are still performing, it is natural that there becomes an expectation by others and yourself to keep on performing. Not only that, but as a top performer, people are constantly watching, and even more closely, every step and move you make. That ups the ante.

Another pressure catalyst is the end-result of performing, or not. For example, if you do not perform you might not get that next big promotion, or even worse, lose your job.

How top performers handle pressure

When under pressure, people can respond in different ways. Some revel it in and move forward and be successful, and others can regress into the fight, flight, fright and show unhelpful behaviours such as aggression. In a work setting, once again, that is not very useful.

So what is it that some top performers do that allows them to handle pressure well? There are a number of factors, and an important one is being able to focus and control their attention in all the distractions and mayhem going on.

Some top performers are also aware that under immense pressure, they can start ‘losing the plot’ – see red – and focus too much on the distractions and things they cannot control. With certain techniques, they can break that downward spiral by rather concentrating on the task at hand and its relevant detail.

Especially in the high end of the performance range, where you are doing most things right already, it is the small steps that can have a huge impact, hence why it is important to stay on task.

This is the tip of the iceberg

I acknowledge the above is simply put, as there are a number of factors, sequences and approaches that need to be taken into consideration, and to explain that all would make this blog way too long.

If you are interested in hearing more, or even our training – Performance Under Pressure – you can click here or contact us.

  • Interesting fact #1: One of the most successful teams in history uses this approach
  • Interesting fact #2: This approach helped them win one of the world’s most prestigious events
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