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Leaders with the longest list of accomplishments are familiar with the concept of pressure. Whether they place it on themselves, provide it to others, or exert it in a last ditch effort to meet a deadline they’ve put off for the very sake of creating such pressure, all have their own stories to tell about how they are motivated by, or loathe, pressure. But why? Why do we feel so strongly about pressure? Is the pressure, a cousin to accountability, we put on ourselves to achieve, do, become, lead, move faster, or be better, may be helpful or harmful. Do we thrive in it or cave under it? Are we setting up future leaders with this same mentality, for success or failure? Let’s take a look in today’s Monday Moment.
Some leaders believe that pushing others will help them succeed. There is validity in this belief when pushing someone to reach their own potential, or pushing to do just a smidge more is the goal. When the full court press becomes a way of insisting that someone not well suited for a role, put forth absurd amounts of effort to act like something they’re not, pretend they have the talents of someone else and figuratively kill themselves for little or no reward and lesser results, that is a problem. Undue pressure of pushing someone into positions in which they don’t fit is actually more than a problem, it’s a deal breaker for long term profit and employment. Push those who smile when you do it. Ease up on those who wince when they see you coming.
The power of leadership is in developing a loyal rapport and respect in those you have the privilege of leading. That power doesn’t last long when a leader gives it away and starts to beg employees to stay or overlooking reasons they really should go away. The leader’s power doesn’t stick around when they are cajoling, begging, persuading, or pleading with employees to please perform according to minimal guidelines or please still do your job even though I gave you a three. Leaders are subject to pressure from multiple directions and if they’re not careful it can negatively influence their decisions on how they lead. If you have to pull others by the hand to get them to follow you, it’s time to reexamine your actions and what you’re doing to compel them to go in a different direction.
Many leaders I’ve known are gifted at saying one thing and doing that same thing quite differently. One such CEO shared with me that he’d like one of his Directors to work less and not drive so hard. As soon as he said it, he then said, “but I’m certainly not the one to model that behavior.” He feared she would burn out and I shared with him that my larger fear was this: when you provide enormous pressure on yourself to perform, to be all things to all people, to say yes all the time, and to work as if your phone and laptop are physically attached to your behind, you pave the way in which future leaders will be expected to behave. You pave the way for expectations that will now be formed about how you’ll behave consistently. You trap yourself in a paved path of your own making to consistently be pressured to do more, faster, and better until you will run out, literally, of energy. Be mindful of the path you are paving for those you lead, the future of leaders in your company, and those you may also lead personally. If the song “Cat in the Cradle” gives you goosebumps, pay attention.
One beloved client told me last week she was prepping to leave for vacation, her FIRST vacation, in her five years of employment tenure. Yes, the company in which she works allows for vacation. Yes, the culture of the company is fairly hard driving and results oriented and they provide a bit of pressure for employees to accomplish super human amounts of work, but I also know the CEO is not one who would say you can’t take a vacation five years in a row. The pressure she’s put on herself to work instead of take a break, is not uncommon, and your leaders are guilty, too. Long hours, late nights, early mornings, berserk work travel schedules, cramming more into 24 hours times 7 than most feel good about doing in a month, are all ways in which we pay the price of feeling pressure to perform. Beyond the issue of health and weight gain when you grab and go, leading one’s life in this way creates the very need for courses on balance and amps the stress level to astronomical (read: difficult people abound!) levels. There’s no question that for some the pressure to perform and work all hours is motivating and rewarding. There’s also no question that the number of people who end a career and then decide to finally do what they’ve always wanted, be who they naturally are, and lead their own lives in a more fulfilling direction is alarming.
Pressure is a force that drives us. Sometimes it drives us to do stupid things, like peer pressure. Sometimes it drives us to wait until we have enough of it, like in the case of procrastination. Sometimes it drives us to force others to buy in faster, destroying employee engagement. And sometimes it is an often inaccurate combination of negative forces in our head that causes people to say “be less hard on yourself”. To become a more effective leader, learn to discern when times are good to pour on the pressure, when to go with the flow a bit more and when to let those you lead let off some pressure. Use pressure poorly and you may find you regret it sorely. Use pressure wisely and it has the potential to be inspiring.
I’m Monica Wofford and that’s your Monday Moment. Have great week, an even better Monday, and of course, stay contagious!