Leading Under Pressure

Leading Under Pressure

Is there anyone who is spared of pressure in today’s world? Probably not. From students worrying about school and examinations to working professionals worrying about a deadline, pressure is everywhere. And this pressure is magnified for a leader.

While one of the reasons the leadership mantle falls on a person might be due to his ability to handle high pressure situations, this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t feel the heat. Rather he is able to handle the situation with calmness and clarity of thought.

There is no escaping pressure. It is always going to be there in some form. The only way to deal with it is by learning to manage it. So, how do these leaders do it? How do they manage intimidating situations so effortlessly? But before getting in to that, let us first understand the various pressure scenarios leaders face.

Possible Pressure Scenarios

A person in a leadership role might experience pressure in various forms. It might be outside influences trying to pressurize the leader into doing something; it might be somebody close to the leader trying to cajole him into doing something their way; it might even be the leader’s own expectations of himself which might be placing pressure on him.

Circumstantial Pressure

  • None of us can control the happenings around us.
  • And when something unexpected happens, it can be distracting.
  • For a leader, everyday throws up new challenges with everyone looking to him for solutions. It can be overwhelming.
  • It requires quick, clear thinking on the leader’s part to help him handle it.

Relationship Pressure

  • Every leader wants to be respected and liked.
  • However, leadership does bring with it decision making and when a decision is made, there are always going to be some people who are happy with the decision and some people who are not.
  • A leader invariably feels this pressure from relationships more than anyone else and the pressure might be from relationships inside the organization as well as outside.
  • It is not easy being the person who has to tell an employee he/she is fired; it is not easy to handle people who are being aggressive and difficult; it is not easy being the person who has to sort out workplace differences.
  • It is not easy, yet it has to be done and sometimes can take a toll on the leader.
  • At times, leaders might even have to handle external factors which place pressure on them and try to influence them to act in a particular way.
  • Handling relationship pressure requires firmness, diplomacy and tact.

Performance Pressure

  • In some cases, the pressure is from the leader himself, of the expectations he has of himself. A product might not have turned out the way he envisioned, there might have been delays in meeting a deadline, a decision might not be working out well and all these might affect the leader’s morale making him doubt himself.
  • A smart leader views performance pressure as a challenge rather than as a threat.
  • He learns from whatever did not work out and analyses it to do better the next time.

Learning from Leaders

Just by watching our leaders, there is much that we can learn from the way they handle pressure situations effectively. Given below are some of the things that all of us can do when we are faced with pressure.

Stop Perceiving Pressure as a Threat

  • Think of pressure as an opportunity to do better instead of thinking of it as a threat.
  • The fact is that threats evoke a feeling of fear in us and when we feel fear it clouds our judgement and our decision.
  • Opportunity on the other hand fosters innovativeness and brings out our creative side. It gives us a feeling of fulfillment.

Focus on the Task

  • Instead of thinking and worrying over what will happen if we do not achieve something, we should concentrate on the task at hand.
  • We should channelize our energy on that and work on doing the task to the best of our ability.
  • We must train ourselves to think rationally; worrying and imagining disaster scenarios gets us nowhere, working on the task to solve it is definitely a more fruitful way of using our time.

Reminiscence About Past Successes

  • All of us have had our share of challenges which we have overcome.
  • Having done it once, it is definitely possible to do it again.
  • Taking heart from the past will give a sense of self-confidence and serve to remove self-doubt.


  • High pressure situations often come with a time deadline.
  • This in itself is enough to make our hearts race.
  • But when we are hurried into doing something, we often overlook important details and careless errors might happen.
  • The solution is to first give ourselves some time to relax, take in the situation and then make a plan.
  • Prioritize tasks to simplify the situation and focus on that.

Share the Pressure

  • Nobody said we had to handle the pressure alone and the reality could be that the situation is affecting many others as well.
  • Talking with others definitely relieves some amount of pressure but more than that, it gives us a different viewpoint.
  • It enables us to learn from others’ experiences and mistakes.
  • Admitting to pressure is not a sign of weakness and it should not be perceived so.
  • Successful leaders are often those who don’t shy away from asking others for their opinion.

Take Away Message

Next time you are faced with a pressure situation, don’t lose hope. Nobody is born with the skill to handle pressure. It is a skill which we all learn when we are put in pressure situations, when we watch and learn from others handling pressure, when we get rid of self-doubt and realize that the ability to handle pressure successfully is there in each one of us.