Better Under Pressure

Better Under Pressure

How Great Leaders Bring out the best in themselves and others (2011)
By Justin Menkes

This is a very interesting book in which the author describes that the leaders today must be highly effective particularly in an environment of extraordinary and ongoing stress. Justin’s research highlight 3 essential capabilities that allow leaders in today’s turbulent world not only to perform at their best but also to get the best out of their people.

1. Realistic Optimisim
People with this trait possesss confidence without self-delusion or irrationality. These people pursue audacious goals, which others would typically view it as an impossible dream, while at the same time remaining aware of the magnitude of the challenges confronting them and the difficulties that lie ahead.



2. Subservience to purpose
People with this trait see their professional goal as so profound in importance that their lives become measured in value by how much they contribute to furthering their goal. What is more, they must be pursuing a professional goal in order to feel a purpose for living.


3. Finding order in chaos
People with this ability find taking on multidimensional problems invigorating and their ability to bring clarity to quandaries that baffle others makes their contributions invaluable.


Overconfidence sets you up for failure because it isolates you from reality. In particular, you forgot the creative role that doubt plays in getting your organization to improve. Doubt reveals the parts of reality that you missed. Once you lose your ability to doubt, you see only that which confirms your own competence. I remember that in one book I read, Leonardo Da Vinci once says that the painter who has no doubts will achieve little.

Sometimes you must recognize both what was known and what remained unknown about the given set of circumstances, and he worked effectively with that ambiguity to derive an action plan that took advantage of differing possible outcomes. By insisting on seeing things for how they really were, even when short term profitability and herd behavior had encouraged him to do otherwise, not knowing the plausible scenarios that would actually come to pass, you give an organization elasticity, a critical survival trait in today’s competitive environment.

It will help if one is authentic and humble about the unknowable and his own imperfections and if one showed a complete lack of shame in revealing them so freely.

Being acuately aware of both your strengths and weakness is a delicate balance to achieve and to model to your people. It’s not enough just to be aware of what’s going on around you, you also need to demonstrate this awareness for your people, so that they too are encouraged and inspired to have the same understanding of the world. How do great leaders achieve such a a balance? By showing their humanity.


Exceptional leaders believe their own actions will largely determine outcomes, their leaders even in the most challenging circumstances tend to do things that can appear unconventional to others. Throughout their actions, their sense of agency expands the freedom they feel within their situation. You can increase the sense of agency in people, especially in a stressful environment, to increase the observable level of control the people have over their jobs.


If you as a leader do  not foster relationships among your colleagues – and if those relationships are not based on a shared purpose – then you will be unable to realize your own potential, and your people will ultimately fail as well. A CEO cannot just express his anger and dislike openly. Candor needs to be tempered with an awareness of the outsized effect a CEO’s behavior has on others because of the executive’s positional authority. Sometimes a CEO could just say something in a meeting or write a one-liner email that just decimated people.


Words, tones and body language all transmit messages to subordinates and affect people’s sense of competence, not to mention their positional status and daily comfort. Thse are the central building blocks of a person’s identity. How they express strong emotions in front of others must take into account the outsized effect these expressions can have on people rightly or wrongly in the line of fire.

We all have human imperfections and vulnerabilities that can appear, given the right triggers. It is our responsibility to become aware of what these triggers are and grow as individuals to bring them more under control as we mature. This ongoing process is part of realizing our potential as leaders, but it is a growth that lasts a lifetime.

The power associated with any position of authority can trigger feelings of grandiosity, a feeling that if not properly managed, can totally disconnect leaders from the realities around them. Grandiosity dangerously distorts leaders’ understanding of themselves and the world around them. It is the very nature a swelling of a person’s self image into a delusional state of grandeur, and anyone, given the right set of circumstances is vulnerable to its manifestation.  The more successful and praised you are as a leader, the more vigilant you must be to keep any sense of grandiosity in check.


Duress makes a person overly focused on the short term – they tyranny of quarterly results that the market presses you on incessantly. The trick is learning how to respond to that demand without losing sight of what’s required to ensure the long term vitality of your company. You have to manage under adversity while not becoming totally preoccupied by today’s crisis.  You got to be thinking about how’s going to be when you come out of it, not just six months from now, but six years from now. Yet very few leaders are able to harness this ability to think in a complex fashion under duress.

For example, Larry Hunter and Sherry Thatcher conducted a study of a commission-based financial services sales force. Observing the relationship between the anxiety levels and sales performance of several hundred sales professionals, they found that the revenue numbers of new employees, even strong ones, dropped drastically. (average total commissions fell 30%). But the performance of more senior employees, those who had been in the job a few years, noticeably increased (average total commissions rose 50%) when they felt the most stress.


In the untrained mind, adrenaline acts as a noisemaker and distractor, causing us to diffuse our attention and increasing the difficulty of focusing on our job at hand. But when we become familiar with the effects of adrenaline, we find ourselves performing with intensified focus. You must think that success breeds complacency – crisis helps you strip it away.


Overall, this book is worth reading. It tells you what are the things to look out to work better under pressure.






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