3 Steps for Leading through Pressure & Change

Coal can’t be transformed into a diamond and a pearl can’t become a pearl without pressure and change.  We know that beauty is created through times of pressure and change. For leaders, it is often where the most growth and learning takes place. However, more often than not, it is less than enjoyable.  It is stressful. It is hard.  And this can keep us from learning and growing amidst the difficulty if we don’t know how to effectively handle it. 

And if we are honest, in the world of leading and living today, when is there ever time that is not seeped with some level of pressure and change? So how do we navigate it?  How do we see beauty in both the process and the outcomes and navigate the stress and difficulty with a sense of purpose and energy? 

A book and a podcast I’ve engaged with recently, have helped provide some key insights into this: 

1. Know your default.  If you’ve heard us say at once at Horizon Point, you’ve heard it a million times: strong leadership is always built with a strong foundation of self-awareness.  When it comes to pressure and changing situations, is it your default to turn inward or outward? Do you tend to focus on what you need and keep it in, or do you focus on whatever everyone else needs trying to please people to respond? Knowing your natural inclination will be the first step in helping you better navigate the pressure and change. 

2. Question yourself and the situation. In the Making It Work Podcast Episode 59- Staying Composed Under Pressure, Dr. Rob McKenna encourages asking these (among other) questions of yourself:  

  • Why are you leading this situation? Another way to ask this is, “Why are you here for these people?” According to the research by Dr. McKenna, a sense of purpose was the number one indicator of ability to successfully lead under pressure.  If you know your purpose, you are able to appreciate the stakes that make a difference.  
  • If this goes well, what is the positive potential that will open up? The second best indicator of leading well under pressure was the leader’s ability to focus on the potential.  It’s not optimism or pessimism, it’s “I have a half full glass full of water, what could I do with that?” It causes centering for the leader. The research showed that it helped moderate success especially in leaders who tend to take things personally. And their research showed that most leaders do take things personally. 

What is your PURPOSE and what is the POTENTIAL? You will most likely have to return to these questions and the answers to them often, especially in extreme times of pressure and change. 

3. Share the story.  In Changing Minds by Howard Gardner, a theme around changing minds- especially in what the author defines as a heterogeneous group- is the leader’s ability to 1) be who they say they are or “practice what they preach” and 2) narrate, or put into story form, purpose and potential. This then translates to purpose and potential for others.  And purpose and potential combined lead to action.  

When we know ourselves, ground ourselves in purpose and potential and then share this through authentic stories, we are better able to lead ourselves and others through challenging times of pressure and change. 

What helps you to lead well in pressure and change? 

Mary Ila Ward