How Great Leaders Respond When the Pressure is On

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At the 2015 Global Leadership Summit, Bill Hybels spoke of a season in which he found himself under enormous pressure.

The problem was, he explained, he tended to put everyone around him under tremendous pressure too. Bill’s self-awareness helped him to learn to cope with pressure in a way that didn’t cause everyone in his orbit to board his personal “crazy train”, as a colleague put it.

Rather than inflicting unbearable pressure on everyone else, I’ve learned that the most effective leaders raise their leadership to a higher level during times of pressure, by consistently demonstrating three counter-intuitive qualities:

1.       Heightened authenticity

One leader for whom I worked would take me out for lunch just prior to the onslaught of a particularly intense season. And he would have the same conversation with me each time.

“Scott, I just want you to know that I’m entering into a period of intense pressure,” he would begin. “And you might notice cracks in my armor during this season. You always have permission to point it out when my ‘jerk-factor’ is starting to rise…”

Such authenticity is a counter-intuitive quality of effective leaders during times of pressure.

2.       Uncommon composure

I was once called upon to say some words to our team on the final work-day of a beloved colleague, who was moving to a different city.

“This person probably had some bad days during her time with our team,” I began. “But if she did, the rest of us never knew. She was the very picture of composure and grace at all times.”

I don’t know if I could offer higher praise to a leader under pressure.

3.       Unwavering passion

I’ve had the privilege of serving under the leadership of Willow Creek Association president Gary Schwammlein for close to 15 years.

And during that time I’ve been aware of seasons when ministry and personal circumstances have combined to form a cocktail of pressure that would have incapacitated a lesser leader.

But in the case of this remarkable leader, such seasons have seen his passion seemingly increase, rather than waver. Counter-intuitive, to be sure, but nonetheless a mark of effective leadership.

The next time you face such pressure take a “pressure-response” inventory. Will you respond with composure, authenticity and passion?

Or will you invite everyone around you to join you on the crazy train?

the author

Scott Cochrane

Vice President- International, Global Leadership Network. Love Jesus, Nora, Adam & Robin, Amy, Dave, Willow, Olive & Charlie and John, Fiona, Will & Harvey. Lifelong learner.

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