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Leading well Under Pressure
By Barton Goldsmith

Los Angeles Business Journal, 19/02/01

Pressure can be positive. It helps people feel alive and productive, and it makes life interesting. In fact, many of us thrive on pressure. As a client once said about his business, "I like the action!" On the other hand, it’s stress that needs to be avoided, and stress happens when there is either too much or too little pressure in our lives. When you’re in charge, too much pressure can bring you to your knees. It can affect your health, your family and your company.

Your Internal Pressure Regulator
Sometimes it’s difficult to know when the pressure and stress of leadership and the desire to succeed becomes overwhelming. It’s the strongest executives that drive themselves to distraction. Watch yourself, and listen to those closest to you. If you are advised that your tolerance level or work performance are suffering, take a serious look at your internal pressure regulator. You may be overdue for a break when you are short-tempered, depressed or tired. We all have internal regulators that go off in different ways, but if you are behaving in a manner that is not your norm or if you stop caring, it could be a warning signal from your internal pressure regulator.

Leadership and Pressure
A leader is always dealing with some pressure. The good ones seem to anticipate problems. They also involve team members in planning for and dealing with crisis. In a crisis, leaders wear many hats — general, soldier and therapist. Learning to let your people vent and training yourself and your executive team to respond, not react are important skills to master. Good leaders explain the challenge, and at the same time, they share their vision for the future. They also look for the upside, while continually demonstrating their resolve. Since some crises can make or break an individual (not to mention a company), it’s important to find ways to release some of the pressure and maintain the leadership role.

The One Minute Vacation
One of the most successful stress reduction techniques is the "One Minute Vacation." It combines relaxation and visualization to create a psychological pressure release valve. To take this "mini-vacation", simply visualize yourself in a beautiful and peaceful place. For example, your favorite might be a beach where you feel the relaxing, warm sun against your face, the wind in your hair and the smell of the salt air. Next time the pressure builds, try this technique of picturing yourself in your peaceful place for 60 seconds. This little "One Minute Vacation" can release mounds of stress.

Top Ten Tips to Reduce Pressure
In addition to the mini-vacation, here are ten other tips to help reduce pressure.

1. Commit to a healthier lifestyle.
  Action: Give up something that hurts you, or take up something that helps you.
Example: Put down that cigar and pick up a bottle of water.
2. Release built-up stress.
  Action: Give stress a voice
Example: Scream in your car or other isolated location
3. Stop being a perfectionist.
  Action: Cease being self-critical.
Example: Next time you catch that inner voice berating you, tell it to shut-up.
4. Delegate.
  Action: Identify three tasks or areas of responsibility you can relinquish to others.
Example: Have your number two run the next company meeting.
5. Re-arrange your priorities.
  Action: Say "no" more often at the office and "yes" at home.
Example: Leave early for a family dinner and activity.
6. Don’t be afraid to teach your team problem-solving skills.
  Action: Use innovations like the Problem Solving Worksheet
Example: Bring in a consultant to teach Innovative Decision Making
7. Balance your life – Make a commitment to spoil yourself.
  Action: Celebrate after your next success.
Example: Take yourself and whoever out to a nice dinner.
8. Avoid isolation. It’s lonely at the top and worse at the bottom.
  Action: Seek out an Executive Coach, or join a Mastermind Group.
Example: Check out Young Presidents Organization or the Council of Growing Companies.
9. Eliminate at least one negative relationship.
  Action: Fire your most difficult client, employee or supplier.
Example: Some customers cost us more in grief than they make us in cash – find out if you have one.
10. Do something totally "Outside the Box".
  Action: Try something new.
Example: Bungee jumping may not be for everyone, but make some kind of a leap to eliminate the fears and the pressure in your life.

Three Steps to Integration.
Pressure is a part of life. How we choose to react to it is really the challenge. Step one is to see it; step two is to acknowledge it, and step three is to do more than just talk about it. Doing this releases the steam from the pressure cooker, and prevents an explosion; which usually causes a mess. Integrating this, and the other tools into your company culture will keep your people productive and happy. You might even enjoy your business and your life more, how bad could that be.


Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., has started, grown and sold 3 companies. He is a highly sought after keynote speaker, business consultant, and author, who presents to numerous companies, associations and leaders worldwide. He works regularly with The Young President’s Organization (YPO), The Executive Committee (TEC) and The Council of Growing Companies. Dr. Goldsmith writes for the Los Angeles Business Journal, and is a contributing author to over 70 business publications and trade journals. He can be contacted through his web site at: www.BartonGoldsmith.com or at (818) 879-9996



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