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5 ways to manage the pressure you’re feeling on the job

Leaders not only need to deftly regulate their own emotions, but also have an obligation to their people to stay calm and in control, no matter what gets thrown at them.

5 ways to manage the pressure you’re feeling on the job
[Source photo: Joshua Hoehne /Unsplash]

Information overload, breath-taking complexity, and bewildering ambiguity are all part of the world we live in. These things naturally create high levels of stress and anxiety. Add to that the odd unexpected setback, emergency, or crisis, and you’ll need all the personal resources you can muster just to stay afloat.

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Resilience is a core competency for leaders. Not only do you need to deftly regulate your own emotions, but you also have an obligation to the people you lead to stay calm and in control, no matter what gets thrown at you.

Here are five core principles to manage your emotions.

Maintain perspective

When you face adversity, everything appears worse than it actually is, so maintaining a healthy perspective is important. Assessing a situation dispassionately and asking the right questions will ensure you stay calm, even in the direst situations.

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  • What’s the worst-case scenario?
  • How big a deal will this be in a month’s time?
  • Is there any lasting damage to our brand?
  • How material is the financial impact on company performance?
  • Where should we focus our efforts to most improve the situation?

Explicitly asking good questions of yourself and your team defuses the emotion, and opens up your creativity and resourcefulness. When you learn to ask the right questions, things are rarely as bad as they first seem.

Learn to let go

We often spend time and energy trying to influence things that are out of our control, which is counterproductive. If you can’t change it, let it go and save your energy for the things you can influence.

The higher you go in an organization, the less control you have but, paradoxically, the greater your accountability. Many leaders try to maintain a tight grip on things they can’t possibly control, which increases stress and contributes to an already oppressive workload.

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As a leader, very few things are within your direct control. So focus on building the right processes, talent, capability, and culture to give you confidence that things are being done the right way. You need to trust your people, so if you don’t trust them there’s only one answer. Get people you do trust.

Scope it down

In any crisis, there are myriad factors to consider. Knowing which of these to concentrate on, and which to ignore is key to successfully navigate the situation. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of data you have, and just as easy to be frozen by the lack of data you’d like to have.

Working out what’s real, and what’s just noise will make every problem more manageable. If there are 100 factors to consider, you’ll find that less than 10 are really critical to your decision—so forget the other 90. Scoping a problem down to its most fundamental elements, without oversimplifying it, is a key to remaining in control during a crisis.

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Work on the right things

If you find that you simply don’t have enough hours in the day, there are three possibilities:

  • you’re trying to do too many things
  • you’re doing too much of your team’s work for them
  • you’re genuinely under-resourced

In my experience, it’s rare that a resourcing problem can’t be solved by focusing on the first two.

With the best intent, most of us try to do too much but, counterintuitively, this isn’t productive. Understanding precisely what your team can do to maximize value for the organization is fundamental to effective execution. Instead of trying to do 50 things (and doing them all poorly), focus on the five things that create the most value. Your job as a leader is to know what drives value in the context of your industry, your markets, this point in time.

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Do your own job

This, as opposed to doing other people’s jobs. When someone in your team isn’t performing, it’s very tempting to do their work for them. It’s an expedient solution that’s easy to rationalize: “I always get the job done. I lead from the front.”

This sucks up your time and has all sorts of unintended consequences. Most importantly, as long as you’re over-functioning for your team members, they won’t feel any pressure to perform, let alone to grow and develop. They become weak and dependent, and the team invariably remains mediocre.

On top of this, every minute you spend doing your people’s jobs is a minute that you aren’t spending on your own. And from there, your workload balloons until you find yourself jaded and burnt out. It’s a lot harder to lift someone to meet the required standard than it is to do it yourself—but that’s what leaders do.

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Having the resilience to weather the pressure in any circumstances takes discipline and commitment. So learn to say no to the things that will distract your team from delivering the greatest value, let go of the things you can’t control, and maintain a healthy perspective in everything you do. Your career doesn’t unfold over two years, it unfolds over 20. Building the right habits early will ensure you can go the distance.


Martin G. Moore is the founder of Your CEO Mentor, author of No Bullsh!t Leadership, and host of the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast.


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