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On Leadership: Don't let the pressure derail you

Pam Solberg-Tapper

In today's work environment, pressure is inevitable. More than ever before, leaders are feeling that they have to produce, achieve, get results and perform at a higher level. Pressure is like stress on steroids and can derail success in a job interview, crucial negotiation or a high-stakes presentation. When pressure increases it can lead to forgetting crucial information, poor decisions and adverse behavioral changes such as appearing defensive, uptight or anxious.

What is the difference between pressure and stress? Stress entails the situations of too many demands and not enough resources to meet them such as time, money or energy. It causes the feeling of overload. Pressure refers to situations where emotions like fear or anxiety are evoked because you perceive that something of high importance is at stake and there could be adverse consequences.

According to Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry's book "Performing Under Pressure," there are three attributes of pressure situations:

  • The outcome is important to you
  • The outcome is not certain
  • You feel you are responsible and are being judged on the outcome

In pressure situations you feel you have one shot at it to get it right — such as an Olympic athlete going for the gold, a major scholastic test or a decision that could have a negative impact for you and others.

Here are three strategies to deal with pressure situations.

Evaluate Your Perspective

With pressure, your vision narrows and you are no longer able to see what is possible. This is because your brain is focused toward the threat of pressure and you believe what you perceive, whether real or imagined. A common example is when you're asked to meet with your boss. If you have to wait a couple of hours you dwell on it and magnify its importance. Your mind questions "What did I do wrong? Am I in trouble? Will I lose my job?" Expecting the worst is letting the fear of pressure take hold and distort your thinking. Instead, evaluate your perspective by asking yourself: "What evidence do I have that I have done something wrong? What is the story I am making up here? What other things could it be?" Dr. Wayne Dyer advises: "When you change the way you think of things, the things you think of change."

Growth Mindset Reflection

Reflection by replaying upsetting past events in your head such as mistakes, failures, humiliation or conflict does not help you to learn from it. Instead it causes you to have more angst in future pressure situations.

Reflect in a more empowering way by using these growth mindset questions:

  • What went well?
  • What did not go well?
  • What will I do differently next time?

Focus on Your Mission

When under pressure it is easy to get absorbed by the difficulty of a situation. To help elevate your thinking, focus on your mission. Your commitment to your mission is a powerful driver to help you move beyond your adverse circumstances. Ask yourself:

  • Why do I do the work that I do?
  • As a leader in this situation, how do I want to be perceived? Do you want to be seen as caring, confident, competent, loyal — someone that truly has the greater good at heart?
  • When I look back, how can I assure myself that I did my very best?

Remember that no matter what the outcome, no one can ever do better than doing their very best. Pressure situations may be increasing and the stakes may be high, but don't let them derail you.

Pam Solberg-Tapper, president of Coach for Success Inc., is a Duluth-based executive coach, professional speaker and seven-continents marathoner. You can contact her at, (218) 729-0772 or