It doesn't matter if you are at the helm of a high-growth company or just starting out with a few employees at a startup--pressure is pressure.
Most of the time, you feel pressure when things aren't going well. You're not achieving certain goals, you make a decision you later regret, there are too many fires for you to put out, or something is off in your personal life and it's bleeding over into your business.
All these different things create pressure--which means it's your job to figure out how to fix them, overcome them, or remove them.
This past year is a great example. The pandemic caused a lot of things to go wrong (not just for us leaders, but for everyone). At my company, we had to let some of our staff go. We had to cut back on marketing. We had to step back and focus more on better processes and efficiencies. In an instant, we had to change a lot about the way we were doing things--which created significant pressure on the entire team.
But we pulled together. We worked through it. And now, looking back, I can see how a lot of that pressure also forced us to grow and evolve as a company.
Pressure isn't always a bad thing, as long as it's handled well. It's when pressure is ignored, or you start lying to yourself about the reality of the situation, that pressure turns ugly.
To make sure that doesn't happen, I encourage company leaders to do the following to reduce stress and improve effectiveness:
1. Be honest with yourself (and others) about how long it will take for change to occur.
Pressure comes when you can't immediately solve and impact your problems.
On the one hand, pressure can be a great way of pushing yourself and your team along, creating a sense of urgency, and moving in a productive direction. But, on the other hand, when you can't immediately solve problems in the span of a few days, or even a few weeks, those pressure-cooker situations become very stressful. And what compounds the stress is feeling like you don't know how long it will take or how much longer you'll have to feel pressure for.
The best way to solve this problem is to be as honest as you can along the way. Communicate to your leadership team and the company at large about what's going on and how you are actively working to move through this phase. Keep updating everyone on the status of progress. Don't leave anyone in the dark.
The more you can remind them (and yourself) of the light at the end of the tunnel--whenever that may be--the better.
2. More pressure doesn't mean more or better output.
Oftentimes, leaders make the mistake of thinking that pressure is the secret to growth. As in, if you want your team to move faster, push them harder. If you want your company to grow, force it.
But in reality, there's only a certain amount of time you and your team can perform under high pressure without getting burned out. And eventually, if you keep your foot on the gas when there's no gas left in the tank, you are going to end up working in the opposite direction. You are going to become exponentially more unproductive. And your team is going to fall apart.
Instead, try to focus teams on prioritization. What are the initiatives that can make the most impact? And then also cross some items off the proverbial list. There will always be pressure, but it can be managed to feel more focused.
3. Focus on your personal health to better deal with pressure
Most CEOs will admit the majority of the pressure they feel doesn't come directly from other people. It's self-inflicted. There's a fine line between productive pressure and unproductive pressure.
Leadership within a business is like a flywheel. When you take care of yourself, you are better able to take care of others. And when you take care of others, they are better able to take care of themselves, which allows them to take care of you.
When you are healthy, and you proactively manage your stress well, you can use pressure to your advantage. But when you are not, and you fail to acknowledge the role stress plays in your life, pressure takes advantage of you.