How Well Do You Lead Under Pressure?

Did you know we can learn a lot about a company’s or a departments’ culture, by the way leaders react under pressure?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio @Pexels

Under pressure is a perfect way to know your true leadership style. Be honest: if something doesn’t go quite right and you know your department is accountable, what is your immediate reaction? Do you look for someone to blame and throw your team under the bus or do you keep calm and collected and take full responsibility?

Reality is that, as a leader, you are requested to make decisions, some of them under pressure.

As mentioned in my article about retraining the operator not mitigating risk, even if you retrain an employee for an error that occurred, your chances of reducing that process risk are minimal to what actually would prevent a recurrence.

That said, when something goes really wrong, that may result in reputational damage to an organization, inviting the operator (that processed the request that resulted in an error) to quit their job is often seen as an acceptable justification to the stakeholders involved and, therefore, can be seen as a “normal” course of action. After all, someone needs to be made accountable, right?

Your reaction can make a difference

As an advisor to an executive team, you see your fair share of situations where leaders are faced with split second decisions under pressure. I remember this one time an error in processing resulted in a customer complaint that was going to cost millions of dollars, as the client was threatening to leave and break the contract. One of the leaders responsible for the processing area of this complaint, when he first heard the news, he was fuming! Boiling! Furious to the point of cursing and yelling about incompetence.

There he was with a split second decision to make:

  1. Storm out of the office and show everyone who is in charge or,
  2. Call everyone involved and show them who is in charge.

Although these two options can almost be read the same, they are in fact two vastly different courses of action. I remember having a long conversation about the reaction he could have and how, either way, will have a massive impact on his team, department and even the culture and work environment he wanted to create.

Let’s explore:

1. Option one – Storm out of the office and show everyone who is in charge

If he would storm out heat headed, he would start blaming, accusing and firing accountable employees. This would send out the following messages:

  • That the consequences of someone’s error is immediate punishment, meaning, unemployment;
  • That next time something like an error happens, hide it. Hide mistakes, errors and anything that may lead to being fired;
  • And, by hiding mistakes, and trying to rework them before the boss finds out, how much capacity would this be using? If you’re actually planning capacity and thinking that you have people available, the amount of hiding and reworking happening that it’s actually not part of the process, could be camouflaging my true team’s capacity.

2. Option two – Call everyone involved and showed them who’s in charge

If, on the other hand, he would call the person responsible and learn details, brainstorm courses of action, design and take investigation steps, implement preventative measures to avoid this from happening again and represent the department to senior leadership that he is in charge of the complaint. That would send out completely different messages:

  • Communication is core in the department and the importance of open communication solves problems;
  • That he, being the person in charge of the complaint, needs to know details to be able to defend the team and the department’s ability to perform;
  • That mistakes and errors are opportunities to create robustness in processes;
  • That he is a customer oriented leader, wanting to ensure and prevent process glitches;
  • That the company invests in process enhancement to ensure that the employee and the customer are protected for next time.

Very easily we take the first option as a reaction. We feel cornered, we let our emotions respond instead of logic. The consequences of option 1 are astronomical to a company’s culture, productivity capacity and ultimately customer experience.

“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”

Publilius Syrus

So next time you are under pressure ask yourself how you want to react? Take a deep breath and do the due diligence of finding out exactly what happened. That way you can proudly say that you DO lead well under pressure.

I also write about my own life ,professional experience and learning curve. I am a continuous improvement learner so I welcome you to share extra information and spread awareness with me if you have other ways of analyzing the same issues or you have value-added information to the readers of this article. Thank you for reading.