When You Break Under Pressure, So Does Your Team photo

When You Break Under Pressure, So Does Your Team

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?

When under pressure:

· 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 are.

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.

·                     Challenge your story. 

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.

·                     Start with facts. 

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 problem solving.

·                     Create safety. 

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.

Adapted HBR Dec 2018 Maxfield & Hale