How a leader deals with pressure will tell you much about who they are as a person. Their reaction to pressure will reveal the strength of their character and conviction, what and whom they value, and whether or not they can be trusted. The reality is most people buckle under pressure. Only a few handle pressure well, and even fewer possess the qualities to be able to thrive on pressure.

There’s no escaping pressure. And just in case you’re wondering, denying its presence doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and won’t make it go away. It’s not a matter of if you’ll encounter pressure as a leader, but when. Regrettably, we live in a world where too many people have risen to a position of leadership without ever having been placed under pressure. When the inevitable occurs, and pressure hits with a vengeance, many leaders simply find themselves overwhelmed.

As scientifically defined, pressure is the ratio of force to the area over which said force is distributed or applied. But pressure has an impact that reaches well beyond the scientific realm. Pressure can also represent the effect of a force applied against a person’s values, positions, philosophies, and even their will to survive. Too much pressure applied to an unwilling, unprepared, ill-equipped, or incapable leader results in flawed thinking, bad decisions, and wrong actions.

In and of itself, pressure is neither good nor bad. Dealing with pressure is little more than a state of mind.  Some see leadership as a privilege and others see it as a burden. Nevertheless, nobody is immune to pressure; some just handle it better than others. But here’s the thing – how leaders deal with pressure is often the difference between catapulting an organization towards success, and contributing to its demise. The right perspective on pressure can create a very positive new normal.

Following are 6 things smart leaders do that transform pressure from a liability to an asset:

  1. Know Thyself: Leaders must know themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, and where they will and won’t compromise. When a leader is comfortable in their own skin they won’t fear dissenting opinion and diversity of thought, they’ll encourage it. Knowing who you are frees you to become a better thinker and a better leader.
  2. Lead: A leaders job is to acquire and develop talent. The larger the organization you lead, the more your performance is dependent upon the talent of your team. The better the talent, and the better you utilize talent, the less pressure you’ll feel. The key to capacity, throughput, and scale is not found by doing – but by developing others to do. Leaders who feel the least amount of pressure are those who spend the most time acquiring and developing talent. Conversely, leaders who feel the most pressure are those who feel they must do everything themselves.
  3. Keep It Simple: Complexity creates pressure. The best leaders look to simplify everything they can. Simplicity rarely equates to a lack of sophistication – it actually demonstrates remarkable elegance. Simplicity drives understanding, which leads to a certainty of execution. One truism you can count on is performance relives pressure.
  4. Get Alignment: Great leaders strive for the following: one vision – one team – one agenda. Organizations that have a shared purpose, common values, and aligned interests are simply more productive than organizations that don’t. Alignment of values and vision take the complexity out of decision-making, and removes the ambiguity from the process of prioritization. Leaders who have organizational alignment feel less pressure than those who don’t.
  5. Focus: Focused leaders rarely feel external pressure. Unfocused leaders feel as if pressure is coming at them from all directions. Focus affords leaders clarity of thought that a cluttered mind will never realize. It’s not possible to lead an organization toward a better future when a leaders mind can’t see through the fog. An organization is never under greater pressure, or at greater risk, than when leaders lose their focus.
  6. Create Whitespace: The best way to maintain focus is to make sure you’ve baked-in some whitespace into EVERY day. Any rubber band stretched too tightly will eventually snap – there are no exceptions to this rule. Leaders who don’t create time for quality thought and planning end-up taking unnecessary short cuts and risks. They let pressure force them into making bad decisions that a little whitespace could have prevented.