Leadership & Pressure to Perform

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Leaders face subtle yet profound pressures, unseen and unfamiliar to most. They’re expected to solve problems their organizations have never faced, do so swiftly, with confidence, and little impact or cost.

Pressure to perform routinely comes from three places … and all at the same time:

  • Employees expect confidence, clarity, and fairness
  • Customers expect operational efficacy, flexibility, and timely resolution of problems
  • Vendors expect your business to operate within their boundaries when procuring products and services

Leaders are regularly asked to make decisions based on experience and knowledge and execute them with confidence and strength, even when they have no experience or knowledge. Considering the multitude of things that can go wrong in a business, it is unreasonable to assume anyone can be well prepared for every situation.

You’re expected to be strategic, constantly checking the horizon for what’s to come; anticipating your next move in the game of business and on the lookout for competitive advantages that will provide great returns. Oh yeah, and to do so without expense or risk; a tough assignment for anyone.

The burden of responsibility to have the answers when nobody else does is overwhelming. The need to step back and reflect often gets lost. While there are many good options for relief, you must first understand what is and is not expected of you. Remind yourself that no one has the ability to solve every problem–even you. Others may want and expect perfection; perfection is an illusion.

The pressure to be perfect often creates fear of being exposed as a fraud. After all, if you’re the boss, aren’t you supposed to have all the answers? Isn’t that why you’re the boss? Many leaders I’ve known and worked with suffer under the oppressive expectations of perfection. Leadership is, among other things, knowing when you don’t have an answer and finding the information you need to make the best decision. In Magnum Force, Clint Eastwood reminds us, “A good man knows his limitations.”

Every leader has many dependable advisors. Colleagues and professionals, such as your accountant, attorney, associations, even consultants on occasion, can be excellent resources for validating ideas and finding new ones. Your management team, employees, and vendors are all fabulous pools of insight and information. A bonus? Getting input from your staff strengthens their sense of engagement, a critical aspect of a healthy, high-performing organization.

How many times must we hear the ancient words, ”Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or vulnerability; it is a sign of strength and wisdom.”

As the leader of your organization, need I remind you, asking for input does not automatically relieve you of your authority nor abdicate responsibility. It does demonstrate confidence in your management team and helps bring alternative viewpoints into your decision-making process. The best solutions often evolve from chemistry between creative, sometimes silly ideas you may not have thought of.

Advice common to my industry: find someone who has experience with what you are trying to resolve. While no one is likely to have all the answers, there are certainly many who have walked the same path of hot coals you’re about to step into and would gladly share their stories.

Two final thoughts:

  1. Slow the process down. When will we ever learn? Seconds, minutes, often hours do not make the difference between success and failure; some decisions take time. And if time is that limited, sometimes it is better to prepare than act.
  2. When pressure intensifies and you begin to feel heat, things can get testy. That’s the time to take a breath. Remember to eliminate the emotion from your thinking. Rely on facts, logic and probability, data that often escapes us when acting under pressure.

Being a leader is demanding, high risk, and deservedly high reward. It’s good to remind yourself of your successes. So long as you get most of the decisions right most of the time, you are undoubtedly ahead of the game. Some reminders:

  • Don’t be too hard on yourself, others will be only too happy to do that for you
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know or were wrong
  • Don’t dwell on the failures, we all have them …even me.
  • Rejoice in the successes.

You’ll find more information on leadership in my Mandelblog, the source for information leaders depend on.



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