As a leader, much of what you do is relatively
forgettable. I don’t mean to insult, but your routine actions on routine days
are experienced by your team as, well, routine.
But for non-routine days — the days when you are
under the gun, feeling the heat, or pushed to your limits — how you respond
under the pressure makes an indelible impression on the people around you. Research
shows that your temperament in these crucial moments has a tremendous impact on
your team’s performance.
When the hammer comes down, are you calm,
collected, candid, curious, direct, and willing to listen? That would be ideal,
wouldn’t it? Or would your team describe you as upset, angry, closed-minded,
rejecting, or even devious?
· 53% of leaders are more closed-minded
and controlling than open and curious.
· 45% are more upset and emotional than
calm and in control.
· 45% ignore or reject rather than
listen or seek to understand.
· 43% are angrier and more heated than
cool and collected.
· 37% avoid or sidestep rather than be
direct and unambiguous.
· 30% are more devious and deceitful
than candid and honest.
And while you can be great 95 percent of time, the
non-routine behaviour leaves a lasting impression. The five percent of moments
when stakes are high, and the heat is on —reveals the truth about who you really
The research found that when leaders buckle under
pressure, it doesn’t just hurt their influence, it also hurts their teams.
Respondents said that when their leader clams up or blows up under pressure,
their team members have lower morale; are more likely to miss deadlines,
budgets, and quality standards; and act in ways that drive customers away.
When leaders fail to practice effective dialogue under
stress, their team members are more likely to consider leaving their job than
teams managed by someone who can stay in dialogue when stressed. Team members
are also more likely to shut down and stop participating, less likely to go
above and beyond in their responsibilities, more likely to be frustrated and
angry, and more likely to complain.
Let’s walk through an example to see how a few
simple skills can help a leader be at their best even when the pressure is on.
Determine what you really want.
Focus on a positive destination like “Showing my
best self” or “Making sure the team understands my appreciation for the
sacrifice I’m going to ask them to make,” for example.
The best leaders challenge their stories. So you
could ask, “Why might a rational, reasonable, and decent person make the
mistake that she made?” and “What role did I have in allowing her mistake to go
unnoticed and uncorrected?” These questions move us from angry judge to curious
problem solver, and make us far more effective as leaders.
When we’re angry, we lead with our emotions,
instead of with the facts. Skilled leaders tamp down the temptation to level
accusations, and gather the facts. Specifically, focus on what you expected:
the commitments, standards, policies, or targets that were missed. Then, add
what you observed: the specific actions with dates, times, places, and
circumstances as necessary. Don’t add your conclusions, opinions, or judgments.
Because facts are neutral and verifiable, they become the common ground for
When you’re under pressure with your job or
reputation on the line, how do you light a fire under your team without showing
them your anger? Can you get your team to put in the overtime you’ll need from
them without threatening them? The short answer is yes. The study showed that
teams work harder and more effectively if a boss doesn’t lose their temper with
them. So you don’t have to threaten. Share your positive intent by saying
something like, “This is not about blaming, it’s about fixing. I want us to focus
on how we can solve our immediate problem. Then we can circle back to find ways
to prevent it from happening again.” By framing your intent, you get your team
focused on what they need to do, and not on how they are being mistreated.
When the heat turns up at work, most of us aren’t
at our best. If you’ve lost your temper in the past, be easy on yourself. You
may do it again. But don’t be discouraged – or complacent. Ask yourself, “When
it matters most, who am I?” While it isn’t easy to step up to your best self
under pressure, it is incredibly important. These are defining moments for you
and for your team.
HBR Dec 2018 Maxfield & Hale