Leader.co.za - Management, Training and Career Advice for Business Leaders

03 AUGUST 2020
What do we learn from pressure?

by Alan Hosking: Publisher of HR Future, South Africa's human strategy magazine, and a Leadership Renewal Coach for senior executives.

As the pandemic spreads across and through countries, it continues to put increasing pressure on just about everyone and everything – political leaders, business leaders, economies, infrastructures, medical teams, business owners, employees, parents, children, supply chains and so forth. We can however learn much from the pressures we encounter…

Most people tend to view pressure in a negative light and seek to avoid it at all costs, but that’s not necessarily helpful. Instead of avoiding it, we should reframe our view of pressure and explore what positive lessons we can learn from being put under pressure as well as look for opportunities for growth.

It’s common knowledge that a muscle will not grow while at rest. As it is put under pressure – from exercise – it grows. This principle also applies to us as people. As we are put under pressure and exercise our muscles, so to speak, we have an opportunity to grow, if we are willing to do so.

It’s important to note that there are two kinds of pressure – positive, constructive pressure and negative, destructive pressure.

Positive pressure causes us to rise to an occasion and brings out the best in us as we seek to perform to the best of our ability. This kind of pressure is typically present in sporting activities where the players are participating of their own free will and because they really want to. They have therefore chosen to put themselves under pressure in the interests of enjoying the game and attempting to beat their opponent/s.

Negative pressure is pressure a person hasn’t chosen to expose themselves to and consequently could result in a destructive effect, such as anxiety, trauma and/or stress.

Another insight we can learn from pressure is that it can unearth strengths, qualities and skills in people that they did not know they had. As they seek to respond to pressure they face, they may be motivated to draw on resources within themselves that they were previously unaware they had. This is when qualities emerge that would have remained hidden had it not been for the pressure they experienced.

Pressure also serves as a tool that reveals the truth about people. Leaders who are not authentic can cover up their true motives while all is going well but, when pressure is put on them by people or circumstances, what’s really inside them comes out, and the real person emerges.

Selfish leaders will act selfishly, unsympathetic leaders will show very little sympathy and uncaring leaders will simply not care. By the same token, empathetic leaders will show their empathy, caring leaders will care for those around them and kind leaders will be kind to those they lead.

At the moment, our political and business leaders are being put under pressure by the need to manage the impact of the pandemic. Watch and listen carefully. Their words and, more importantly, their actions, will reveal their true motives, their true level of competence and their true character. That’s because pressure, like money, does not change a person’s character but merely reveals their true character.

But check yourself in the mirror. How have you been responding to the pressures that you have been facing? Mentally categorise the pressures you’re dealing with. Are they positive or negative? Are they pressures you have chosen or ones that have been forced on you? How have you responded to those pressures? Chances are, there’s been a little of your true self that emerged.

None of us likes to think we’re wrong or bad people. We prefer to think we’re right. Even thieves and corrupt people consider themselves to be “good”, hence the many vehement denials of wrongdoing when they are confronted.

If you’re prepared to be honest with yourself, really honest, you’ll face the truths that pressure reveals in you – about your motives, your competence and your character. What’s more important, though … will you do something about what you see? If you do, I salute you as a person of great courage and strength!
Useful resources:

HR Future
HR Future is South Africa's only independent, most forward thinking human resource magazine with the richest content wealth of HR related issues on the continent of Africa to help executives recruit, manage, train, reward and retain the best talent. Visit our InfoCentre or website.

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