The Most Important Thing To Do When You Are Leading Under Pressure

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What do you do when your plans are falling apart, the clock is ticking, and everyone is looking at you for decisions, answers, and leadership?

Have you been there?

That was my world, every week, for fifteen years. For fifteen years, I was the Executive Producer of a hit comedy TV show in Seattle, Washington. Think Saturday Night Live, but on a local level. Granted, the stakes weren’t as high as if I’d been, for example, a military general or a heart surgeon—but the pressure was just as real.

If you’re a leader, you probably know the feeling. Here’s what it looked like in my world.

It’s 9:15 on a Saturday night. You’re in Studio B of KING-TV. The standing-room-only studio audience is excited. The band is playing. Taping begins in fifteen minutes.

And your main guest hasn’t arrived yet.

You’ve got a huge, gaping hole in your show—a show that will be seen later that night by roughly one million people in the Pacific Northwest and Canada—and everyone—your cast, your crew, your staff—is looking at you for the solution.

And you don’t have one.

What do you do?

Have you been there?

Every leader, eventually, has to produce results under pressure. Maybe that pressure is a fast-approaching deadline; maybe it’s a shortage of resources; maybe it’s an incomplete set of information. Maybe it’s a combination of all three. But there you are, “The One,” and everyone’s looking at you.

The most important thing you need to do in this situation is exude calmness and confidence. I know—easier said than done, right? But there’s one reason why this is the most important thing you can do, and it’s this:

Your team takes its cues from you.

As a #leader, your #team takes its cues from you. #leadership Click To Tweet

There are two reasons everyone is looking at you during these high-pressure situations:

  1. To see what decision you’re going to make (this is the obvious reason), and
  2. To see how they should behave.

Ironically, the actual decision you make is, in most cases, less important than the way you behave in the moment of pressure. There are very few decisions that will have a lasting impact. In fact, your team will probably forget many, if not most, of the decisions that you make. But they will never forget the way you made them feel.

If you appear panicked, then your team will panic. If you appear unconfident, then your team will lose confidence. If you appear rudderless, then your team will wonder why they are following you in the first place.

If the #leader panics, the #team panics. #leadership Click To Tweet

But if you stay calm and exude confidence (even though you may be panicking on the inside!), your team will feel they are in good hands. They’ll mirror you, and be calm and confident themselves.

And isn’t that a better place to be when the pressure is on?


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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