The Pressures of Leadership and How to Beat Them

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I’ve worked with several leaders in organisations, and the ones I’ve admired the most are those who could handle any situation with calm, who could get jobs done without creating anxiety, and who you could learn from by mere observation… Their personalities seemed to always be in control, focusing on solutions, and seldom blaming the environment or people around them.

Such leaders almost make leadership look easy…

But of course we know that behind all that grace and composure, are worries and anxieties, pressures and challenges, that come along with the package called ‘leadership’. Most leaders take several years before they can get to a place where they can handle leadership with ease.

The world envies leaders — they have power and perks, travel to foreign locations, meet different people, and even hire and fire at will. But for those of you in leadership roles, you know that balancing the various pressures is akin to the job of a trapeze artiste…one wrong move and not only do you go down, but you take the entire company along with you too.

The pressures a leader faces are many…

Some could be internal or self-imposed, where the need to achieve more from one’s self can cause much stress. Another set of pressures could be external, where expectations from employees, investors, and the markets can become the stressors.

In either case, a leader does not have it easy. He is constantly looked upon for sound decision-making, motivation and direction by his team internally, and answerable to investors, the board of directors and customers externally.

While leadership pressures are borne with ease by some, for many this enhanced sense of responsibility can become a burden, often causing stress and sometimes even early burnouts.

Thus, it is important to become cognizant of these pressures before they overtake your personal and professional life. As a leader, if you can bring more balance to your role, you will automatically bring more balance to the people around you… Moreover, you will no longer look at leadership as a burden, but instead you will enjoy it.

So, here I list three main pressures of leadership, and how you can tackle them…

1. The pressure of achieving results

There are projects to be completed, revenue targets to be met, and expansion plans to be put in place… Meeting targets of any kind can cause immense pressure. As a leader, you are constantly conscious of these targets…in fact, they almost consume you.

You may be eager to keep stakeholders, customers and the board happy, but you also cannot put unrealistic targets onto those in your company… Lest, they leave or you make them leave!

In your race to achieve the targets, you may burn the midnight oil, lose the bigger picture, make wrong decisions, forget ethics and human well-being…a dangerous place to be in. So, no matter how great the target to be achieved, if it’s not aligned with your company’s values and culture, there’s no point chasing it.

Solution: Set realistic targets for yourself and your teams. First assess what’s doable and what’s not. Involve everyone in the plans from day one, so that they are on the same page, and aware of what needs to be done.

Also, deploy a diverse set of people with different competencies to achieve the targets… Successful leaders always have individuals with complementary competencies and skills, rather than similar ones, because they are then able to view and solve problems with a different approach.

Another good idea is to motivate the team toward a vision, and not just a goal or number… Teams that are in sync with the company’s larger vision perform much better than those that are not.

2. The pressure of always being right

As a leader you are constantly looked upon as a role model, someone who will not err or fumble, someone who is fair and looks at a problem from different angles. This pressure often puts you in doubt — doubt about the direction the company is moving in, the decisions you’re taking, and your own capabilities and worth as a leader.

‘To be or not to be’ was not just a dilemma for Hamlet…it’s a dilemma every leader goes through. You may even feel reluctant to continue in your position…

Solution: Realize that all the burden of responsibility is not your own. As a leader, you are largely a facilitator, and you should focus instead on growing your teams, rather than doing everything yourself.

Moreover, it is not essential for you to know and direct on every detail of every aspect … All you need to do is focus on the vision set out, and then nurture great teams to execute them. The more you empower those around you, the less stress you will feel.

Also, grow a circle of advisors, or a support system, who you can reach out to when in doubt. These should be your confidantes…those you can pour your heart out to, and share your problems with. Take ideas and solutions from them and find strength from their support.

3. The pressure of personal growth and balance

As markets expand, irate customers take to social media, and boards expect you to cross last year’s revenues, you can’t but help take your pressures home too. With the result that you may neglect your passions and hobbies, forget about me-time or things that you would otherwise love to do to express yourself.

There may also be times, when you become distant and aloof from your family members and loved ones…and the pressures of your role get transferred to them too. Thus, don’t ignore the importance of work-life balance…

Solution: As a leader, it is essential that you are fit in mind and body before you serve others. Many leaders across the world have become part of what is called the ‘4am club’… They have set aside that time of the morning to take in exercise, meditate and catch up on their reading while the rest of the family, and world, sleeps.

You could also look at keeping aside some time for the family, and initiating activities that help you bond together, like a post dinner board game, an annual vacation or some dedicated Sunday time that is free of work and phone calls.

Take your travel leave too. And remember not to stay connected while away… Simply put an ‘out-of-office’ auto-responder and holiday without any worries… Be confident that your team will firefight whatever comes up in your absence.

These are just a few stressors and solutions to help you regain your balance and beat the pressures you face daily as a leader. Of course there are many more, as the leadership role is vast…

Today’s times are rightly described as VUCA — volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. These factors play havoc in the life of the leader too.

But as a leader, if you decide to face these situations with calm and equanimity, little will ruffle your feathers… In fact, you will be an inspiration to many.

This article was first published in Yellow Spark — a unique management consulting firm with an expertise in the people side of business.

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