An Example of Leading Under Pressure (Or not)

Woman expression frazzled

I had a great illustration of leading under pressure recently.

Or, to be more honest, the need to do so.

I met a friend at a local restaurant for breakfast. The place is normally busy and this seemed like a typical day, but the obvious leader (person in charge) was in stress mode. Apparently, several of her employees hadn’t shown up for work that day. Well, not, apparently, she made that quite clear as she complained rather loudly throughout our visit.

Suddenly the place was swamped, which is not an unusual happening for this restaurant, and the young girl running the cash register was overwhelmed. She had to ask for help a couple of times. She was probably sorry she did…both times. She was making mistakes, but she seemed to make more the more agitated her boss became. Her boss continually “barked” back half answers, displayed constant frustration, and grumbled excuses about the lack of manpower. She never apologized. She just complained. Several customers displayed their equal frustrations. My friend and I wondered how we could best help, but, honestly I was afraid of her. :) We stayed, tried to be nice and patient, but leaving almost seemed the more helpful option.

I know firsthand the pressure of leading under stress. I’ve been there many times where it seems everything is going wrong at the same time. Honestly, however, from an outside perspective, the employee on the cash register would have performed better, less mistakes would have been made, customers would have been less tense and the overall environment would have improved, had the boss simply led through the moment, rather than overreacted.

It reminded me of an important leadership principle.

The way a leader reacts under pressure, determines how a team reacts under pressure.

If the leader remains calm under pressure. Keeps smiling. Pushes forward the best he or she can.

The team will likely remain calm. Keep smiling and push forward the best he or she can.

If the leader panics…everyone panics.

The role of a leader in times of stress may be more important than when times are good.

Leading in good times is easy (easier). When the world is stretched…when we are under-staffed, under-funded, overwhelmed, that’s when we most need leadership.

Here is your chance to help other leaders. Do you have any tips for remaining calm under pressure?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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14 thoughts on “An Example of Leading Under Pressure (Or not)

  1. Ron, this is so good! Personally, I've experienced all three possible situations with this kind of stress. I used to be that stressed-out leader…and have been lead by this person…as well as have jumped ship once this uncomfortable scenario unfolds. The best thing a leader can do when the situation becomes 'tense' is to simply take 10 seconds to stop…evaluate…and lead, knowing that everyone is looking to us for direction. That 10 seconds often feels like an eternity, but it is honestly what will save your neck and everyone involved.

  2. I used to run into this same scenario when I was in Retail Mgt.. The best way, for me, was to quite literally give up on everything else! I had only one task, finish that one and move on to the next. Sounds a little too simple, but that is just the concept, what actually happened was more along the lines of these tasks overlapping. If I allowed the overlap to control the situation, I lost it! Like love, you multiply what you have, not divide! It is hard work, and you will be exhausted when you finally do finish, but you will finish. Part of the key is to remember that there is an end, and it can be achieved…one step at a time.
    Twitter: bryankr

  3. Hi Rod !
    I just want to thank you for all your articles.
    I am just a young leader (or I am expected to be one…)
    and the facts that you are presenting there are true and helpful.
    Sorry for my english (i am french). But I am very glad I discovered your website, at the right time in my life.

  4. I experience the same thing with a person who talks too much and is always negative. Everything is approached from a negative standpoint: “That won’t work here”; “They don’t understand the constraints we’re under”; “Your idea will only save 2 minutes off a visit.”

    Just once, I’d love to hear him say, “How could we make this work?” Just once.