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Stephen Archer is a speaker with great charisma. By using illustrations and personal experiences and not being afraid to share his own point of view of the current situation and who is to blame for it, he engages the whole audience, at the same time helping us all to understand the credit crunch a little better.

— Warwick Business School

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Leaders under pressure: the implications

The first casualty of pressure is truth. Truth, really?

When leaders are under too much pressure then they cease to be able to see reality and compound this with self-denial that they are in any way at fault. Everyone has a pressure limit and it affects people in different ways. It might be argued that the lucky ones are those that are affected by health, they slow down and pause for thought. The others push on even harder to try to work through the pressure. But the cortisol increases, behaviours change, professionalism and respect for self and others falters, relationships strain and fail, quality of decision-making decays. It’s a disastrous situation and it can have very serious consequences for many people.

Pressure is endemic, so how can people cope? Pressure creates a state of mind and a warped view of reality, rarely noticed by the victim. Worse still, some view it as a badge of honour, far from being feeling like a victim. For them it means that they are delivering great value and are of great importance: “I cannot be important unless I am under pressure” But how insane is that view?

I am constantly amazed at the basic errors that people make, the truisms of life that they ignore. So the guidance for removing excessive, damaging stress is going to sound like common sense – as it should.

  1. Awareness of self and others. Without that awareness a leader cannot see how to best serve the people and the self. Serve everyone by allowing him or her to contribute to the full. Empower others and the result will be freedom for the leader to do what the leader is best suited to do.
  2. Create space for thinking. It’s more about time but sometimes it’s space too, get away from the desk, even the office. Take one, two but no more than three issues and consider without risk of interruption, then discuss the thinking with peers. This will achieve focus and clear the mind of the weight of issues, which will always cloud the brain and compound pressure.
  3. Clear and simple direction. Excess pressure is usually associated with unclear priorities and therefore unclear direction. Loss of focus on direction can be fatal and is of itself an added pressure. Review and refresh the essentials of the role and the mission. Complexity is another added pressure but most complexity can be simplified. Simplification means efficiency and more predictable execution and results. Simplicity means more people can understand and be aligned to deliver, thus lessening pressure.
  4. Clear and consistent decision-making. Under pressure, a leader can very easily become unclear and inconsistent. This causes the whole team to lose focus. Everyone needs to understand what the leader wants and the more that this can be understood the more that the team will support the leader.
  5. Trust others and they may trust the leader and feel empowered to do their jobs. Give them the freedom to succeed and achieve. Invest in the talent and make sure the right talent is hired.
  6. Consensus and alignment. If everyone understands then they can agree and support the mission as a team. Gaining a shared purpose makes lifer easy for the leader and as a consequence this is an area of essential effort.

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