3 Attributes that Will Help You be Better Under PressureBetter Under Pressure.
To do this a leader must possess a “highly unusual set of attributes that often run counter to natural human behavior.” This means leaders must “foster specific attributes to achieve maximum success in themselves and their people. No longer can leaders think of leadership as unidirectional. Instead, leadership “becomes a fluid, virtuous cycle of exchange and growth between leaders and the people they lead.”
Menkes writes, “Almost every human being alive today has an underutilized thirst for bettering himself or herself. It is up to leaders to discover how to trigger this thirst—in fact, it is a leader’s most critical responsibility.” Recognizing and developing that thirst is something that must be and can be learned.
He identifies three catalysts that will help a leader to realize his or her own potential and the potential of others:
Realistic Optimism. Striking a balance between the known and unknown. Kevin Sharer, CEO of Amgen, said, “With all the things that are going on in today’s workplace, if you’re not a little bit self-reflective and self-aware, you’re not going to make it.” And you won’t get the best from your team.
Awareness requires humility. Humility allows you to see yourself as you are. It also allows you to see your role in any problem.
Realistic optimism creates a sense of agency—the degree to which you believe your circumstances are within your control. “People must recognize how—and that—their own approach to the problem can either exacerbate these obstacles or bridge the space between two parties.”
You must learn says Menkes, “to minimize the ways your mind distorts reality.”
Subservience to Purpose. While realistic optimism allows leaders to see and address deficiencies in themselves and the world around them, subservience to purpose gives them the drive to do so. In this framework, “people’s level of dedication toward the mission of the enterprise is paramount, rather than their dedication to each other….Hierarchical distinctions are secondary to the overarching value system that considers the company’s noble missions its most important function.”
Subservience to purpose means developing affect tolerance or “the ability to channel intense reactions to recurring setbacks in a way that not only avoids hampering you, but also constructively keeps you and your organization moving forward toward maximum potential.”
It is vital that a leader understand the outsized effect that their emotional behaviors have on their people. Not managing your emotions and reactions—especially in a stressful environment—will hinder other people’s progress. You must temper the intensity of your responses “with the awareness of the unequal power dynamics you share with your team.” This also means keeping in check your sense of self-importance. Menkes writes:
Grandiosity is particularly costly to you as a leader, because its expression unintelligently telegraphs to your subordinates that you believe the group’s accomplishments are largely due to your involvement. This why expressing humility is so important, because when you are humble, you clearly communicate to others that you recognize the critical role each team member plays in contributing to the organization’s progress.Fred Smith, founder, chairman, and CEO of FedEx told Menkes:
As a founder, you must be able to resist any temptation to let the organization become a cult of personality built around you. FedEx isn’t about me. When I walk out the door here, this organization won’t miss a beat.”How many can (want to) say that?
Finding Order in Chaos. This attribute is about maintaining clarity of thought and a drive to solve the puzzle. Maintaining clarity of thought is developed by learning how to manage your stress in such a way that it fuels your focus and increases your clarity. To do this, one must seek out experiences that support your sense of competence under duress—“managing adrenaline without panic and gaining confidence that the sensations that stress induces will not lead to collapse.”
The drive to solve the puzzle “manifests itself as an intense intellectual curiosity…and a pleasure in finding solutions to them.” Menkes adds, “The positive feedback we get from maintaining clarity under pressure gives us a thirst for more situations that involve pressure, and we are thus driven to solve the puzzle.”
All of these attributes work to develop the other. Understanding things as they are gives you the confidence to face the issues with the mission in mind. Success in this area drives you to remain calm and find solutions to the problems with those around you. “Once you experience the gratification of triumph in the pursuit of meaningful goals, the virtuous cycle of realizing potential becomes a regenerating flywheel that is transmitted to others.”
Importantly, Menkes reminds us, “people do not act as isolated entities, but are reflections of an essential interaction between themselves and the context in which they are placed….A person’s potential can only emerge as an active process, consciously cultivated through a fluid, ongoing exchange between leaders and their people.” It serves to remind us of the privilege and huge responsibility leadership truly is. To see leadership primarily as a function of authority, is to totally miss the mark.
I’ve only offered an overview of the ideas Menkes presents here. There are so many more insights in this book than can be provided here. But reading the examples of those who exemplify theses attributes and those who haven’t, coupled with the interviews of 25 leaders, you will come away with a sense of where you stand and a confidence that you can improve in any area you identify.
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