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How Leaders Can Stay Calm Under Pressure

We’re under more intense pressure to accomplish than at any time in our history. Challenging workloads, tight budgets and deadlines, and ongoing change are familiar companions. There’s pressure to accomplish more in our leisure time as well, creating conflict between family and relationship needs and our own needs.

The ability to stay calm and centered amidst multiple demands helps leaders inspire confidence, marks employees for greater opportunities to advance, and enables a more peaceful life.

The term "I'm losing my mind" refers to the loss of reason and focus that occurs when the brain's electrical system is altered as a result of stress and pressure. Suzanne was conducting a performance review. She began by acknowledging the goals that the employee had met. However, as she moved into areas that had fallen short of goal, the employee angrily got up and walked out. Suzanne’s first reaction was disbelief, followed by fury at what she saw as an utter lack of respect and professionalism.

Jeff has been planning for an upcoming sales meeting, in the midst of negotiations for a major contract, training a new sales rep, and navigating a tangle of options for care of his elderly father. He describes the sensation of having too many balls in the air “like Pop Rocks exploding in my head. I lose the ability to focus."

When a situation is stressful, there are three choices: react, suppress it, or hit the Pause Button. Venting may feel good in the moment, but can be very costly to relationships and reputation. Suppressing negative energy all the time is exhausting and unhealthy. The wiser option is to hit the Pause Button.

Hitting the Pause Button offers the opportunity to regain perspective and equilibrium. Suzanne felt like going after the employee and giving her a good dressing down. But realizing that conversations conducted in anger are rarely productive, she decided to wait and give them both a chance to cool down before re-engaging. Jeff stepped away from his desk and took a brief walk outside to gather his thoughts. When the brain's electrical system is hyper-stimulated, hitting the Pause Button as Suzanne and Jeff did brings the brain back into balance.

Once the Pause Button is activated, it’s time to release the pressure valve with these proven strategies: ● Breathe. Breathing is the first line of defense. Breathe in slowly through your nose to a count of five. Then breathe out slowly through your mouth to a count of five. Repeat for several minutes until you feel calmer.

● Ask questions. When we're under fire, there’s sometimes a sense of urgency to make rapid decisions and take action. Often the wisest course is to get more information first.

● Delegate what you can. Assuming the Lone Ranger mentality ("It's easier to do it myself than have to follow up with someone”) means you’re taking on too much.

● Enlist support from trusted sources. Another leader, a coach, or a discreet friend can provide a valuable sounding board.

● Don't take things personally. Yes, it's hard to do when you’re triggered. But don't make it about you. It's likely the offender is under pressure, too, and isn't handling it as well as he might.

● Remind yourself of who you are at your core. What values define you? Who are you when you’re at your best? Pressure can cause us to lose sight of our best selves. Make a decision about the leadership self you choose to present to the world.

"Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm," once quipped the Latin writer Syrus. One of the distinguishing features of leadership is how we handle ourselves when the seas are choppy.

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1 Comment

Feb 27, 2021

Hitting the pause button is very good advice. I often say to myself, Someone else's crisis does not have to be my crisis.

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