3 Tips On Leading When Under Pressure

Photo Credit: Daria Nepriakhina

It's 10:00 AM. You've had one heck of a day. You came in early to compile the project reports in preparation for the 1:00PM presentation with upper management. Well, you actually came in early because certain team members sent you the data a little past midnight, and you needed to compile the reports so that the project manager could review them before the 1:00PM presentation.

So, back to our story - it's 10:00AM. You've sent the draft presentation to the project manager, and are feeling pretty good. That is, until the project manager calls you saying there has been a change in direction. The rest of the team has been instructed to re-analyze their data and send you the information as soon as possible. The good news is that the meeting has been pushed back to 3:00PM.

How do you react?

Would it surprise you to learn that the emotions you choose to react with will affect the quality of your work and your performance?

When you find yourself in situations like these (which are all too common), take these simple 3 steps.

If you want to hear a verbal rendition of this blog, you can watch/listen to my Facebook Live at the end of this post.

Step #1: Stay Calm

Take a few deep breaths. When you first get unwanted news, your body instinctively enters into a stress-response mode. Some of the results of staying in this mode for elongated periods of time are reduction in short-term memory and the deterioration of your problem-solving ability. This happens much more frequently in our corporate culture than we would care to admit.

One way to counter the effects of stress on your body is through taking deep breaths. In doing so, it increases your ability to hold on to important data points, think clearly, and problem solve.

Step #2: Focus on What You Can Control

Now, the next step is to come up with a course of action. One common pitfall is to get overwhelmed with all the data. As one Marine told me, when you are in a battle, you can't always control the entire battlefield. What you do is section of the different areas of the battlefield and select which one to fight/win first. It is part of creating a strategy. You focus on what you can control.

Likewise, when you receive unwanted news - be it big or small, look at the situation and identify what parts can you control.

There is a saying along the lines of:

If you have the power to change a situation, don't worry, take action.

If you don't have the power to change a situation, well, worrying won't help it.

So don't worry.

Step #3: Take Action (Even If It Is Small)

And the last step, as always, is TAKE ACTION. You have kept your mind calm, you ensured you're thinking clearly, and then you identified what you can control. The logical step is to take action.

By taking action, you are demonstrating to yourself that you are in control. I don't mean "control" in a "power over others authoritative" manner. It signifies that you have taken responsibility for your life and your actions. If you are a leader, part of your role as a leader is to take full ownership of every situation. A great read on this Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win.

Take action even if the action is small. Doing so signifies to your mind/self/consciousness that you are in control and you are capable. This builds up confidence and motivation to complete the next action. It eventually creates the momentum that allows you to take "big" action.

And, more importantly, as a leader, your actions send a strong message to those whom you lead. If they see you staying calm and taking action, they are more likely to follow suit.

So, back to our story. This is a scenario that has happened to me. What did I do? I took a few deep breaths. In fact, I took a brief 1 minute break to give my brain and my eyes relief from the computer screen. And then, I looked at the situation. I assessed what would be the most efficient method of completing the task. I broke it out into smaller components, drew a rough sketch of my plan in my notebook, and then DECIDED that I would enjoy the challenge. And then I did it.

And so can you!

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