Keeping Your Cool Under Pressure

Keeping Your Cool Under Pressure

Let’s face it – as a leader…losing your cool in the midst of confusion and chaos at work can make you lose credibility – fast – with your colleagues, your team, your customers, and  even the executive team. Unfortunately, there are a lot of workplace challenges that create pressure for individuals. Especially as this is the time of year for annual meetings to take place in many organizations and the start of Q4 in other industries that really rely on elevated business to keep them healthy or get them into a healthy position. These events can create havoc for a team if they lack a strong team mentality and/or lack critical competencies such as time management, focus, communication, etc..

Losing your cool once in a while or being visibly frustrated is totally forgivable on occasion – we’ve certainly all been there. But not keeping your calm on a regular basis signals to others that you’re not in control of your emotions, and this creates a doubt that puts a dent in your reputation as a leader that people can learn from and grow with.

I remember a retail organization that I worked for many years ago that had a small gym in our Headquarters. It was always so incredibly busy that there was no time for anyone to use the gym for it’s intended purpose but it was the preferred place each person went to sit on the weight bench and have a good cry when the environment became extremely challenging – including myself. Although with the slightly swollen eyes and red noses it was pretty clear who was having a tough day in that office, but that was the accepted culture of the organization. I – thankfully – learned a lot at that company and it forced me to develop grit and moxie in the workplace as well as develop my skill set around how to manage pressure effectively.

There’s a ton of well-meaning advice available on staying calm, not taking things personally, or staying positive. For most people, however, the truth is, these are hard to do in the moment when the pressure is on and we’re about to hit maximum frustration. What’s more realistic and actionable is to focus on self-care and emotionally intelligent practices and create smart and responsible actions around the needs and purpose of the business.

TalentSmart conducted research with more than a million people, and found that 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control.

A leaders reaction to pressure will reveal the strength of their character and conviction, it will highlight what and whom they value, and whether or not they can be trusted and respected. The reality is most people buckle under pressure in one way or another. Only a few handle pressure well, and even fewer possess the qualities to be able to be energized and excited by pressure either professionally or personally.

There’s No Escaping It

There’s no escaping pressure in the workplace. Employing a strategy of hope around it or denying its existence doesn’t mean it doesn’t actually exist, and it certainly 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 through politicking mediocrity without ever having been placed under pressure. When the inevitable occurs, and pressure drops on them like an anvil, many leaders simply find themselves overwhelmed and under-prepared and they create even more pandemonium for themselves, their team(s), and the organization.

Some people view leadership as a privilege, while others see it as a burden. I am one who sees it as a huge privilege and am acutely aware of my responsibility to others to model and showcase what right looks like, regardless of what is happening around me. Nevertheless, everyone is susceptible to pressures. How leaders deal with pressure is often the difference between propelling an organization in the direction of success, or contributing to it’s downfall. The right perspective on pressure can create a very positive new and accepted normal and can be the compass | standard for other leaders and emerging leaders – this is something that the best leadership is compelled to set the example for.

In my experience – great leaders place elevated levels of pressure on themselves so that externally imposed pressure seem almost superficial by comparison. Daily, I challenge myself to be a stronger leader, to work on upskilling competencies that I feel I may be lacking in,  and to be a better person than I was the day before –  this focuses my efforts and provides a source of internal motivation that trumps any pressure(s) others could demand of me. I think that is the case with most leaders that have a high-level of Emotional Intelligence.

6 Ideas On How To Overcome Pressure In The Workplace

ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE. ELIMINATE THE NEGATIVE: The power of positive thinking is absolutely real. Through a focus on managing your time, your daily | weekly agenda and learning to effectively prioritize you can unscramble the chaos of the day and create a plan of action to accomplish more. Positive thinking doesn’t mean that you bury your head in the sand and ignore life’s unappetizing situations. Positive thinking just means that you approach challenges in a more positive, proactive, and productive way. You choose to believe the best is going to happen, not the worst – couple this with a high-level of personal accountability and you can ensure you achieve all the objectives you need to in order to deliver excellence, consistently.

POSSESS EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Leaders must know themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, and where they will and won’t compromise. When a leader is comfortable with their skills they won’t fear dissenting opinion, feedback, diversity of thought, or the unexpected; they’ll encourage it and rise the occasion each time. Knowing who you are frees you to become a better thinker and a better leader and to deal with challenges with patience, a plan, and confidence.

AVOID NEGATIVE PEOPLE: Do your best to avoid toxic colleagues that sap your energy and enthusiasm. Toxic coworkers spread negativity like wildfire and create obstacles around productivity. People who are committed to delivering greatness are absolutely in control of their thoughts and emotions, but it’s much harder to stay calm when you’re surrounded by obnoxious, cynical, and/or exhausting people. Do your best to keep your distance from pessimistic colleagues, especially when working on a project with a deadline.

SURROUND YOURSELF WITH THE BEST TALENT: One of the primary responsibilities of a leader is to attract and develop top industry talent. The larger the organization or team you lead, the more your performance is dependent upon the talent the individuals on your team. The stronger the talent, and the effectiveness of how you utilize and develop it in your team, the less pressure you’ll feel. The key to capacity, scale, and excellence is not found by one person taking action – but by developing others [a team] to be confident and effective. Leaders who feel the least amount of pressure are those who spend the most time – consistently – building the best teams.

HAVE A PLAN AND A PURPOSE FOR EACH DAY: Objectively, most people are terrible at multitasking, so managing your time and – again – prioritizing is critical to productivity and measuring the success of each objective. When we slow down and focus on being present, we can fully engage in each task, which often translates into higher performance [as opposed a bunch of unfinished, “kind-of completed” projects]. In today’s workplace it’s really easy to get distracted, so creating a habit to respond based on a schedule rather than spontaneous cues, like the “ding” of your inbox or an alert on your phone.  University of California information scientist Gloria Mark found that it takes an average of 26 minutes to recover from trivial interruptions. And with the average person only able to work – without interruption from colleagues/coworkers – for approximately 11 minutes that is a lot of potentially lost productivity time per day if we don’t have goals in mind and keep focused on delivering on those goals.

ALIGN YOURSELF AND YOUR TEAM AROUND THE COMPANY MISSION & VALUES: Great leaders work and shape their teams around the following mantra: one vision | one team | one agenda. Organizations and leaders that have a shared purpose, common values, and aligned objectives are significantly more productive than organizations that don’t. Alignment of values and vision take the complexity and confusion out of decision-making, and helps to remove the ambiguity from the process of prioritization. Leaders who have organizational alignment feel less pressure than those who don’t and can inspire the organization’s purpose in others.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail and 18 year retailer. I am a passionate and creative leader and coach committed to inspiring thought, action, truth-telling, solution-seeking, and dialog about how to maximize talent through identifying and creating a process around critical success factors, workplace culture, signature leadership practices, productivity, profitability, alignment of employees and company vision & values, and workplace happiness inside all retail organizations. I help create healthy, vibrant, high-performing, and highly-productive organizations that are talent magnets and focused on delivering the highest level of customer experience that will differentiate them from competition and result in long-term growth and sustainability.

View all posts by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *