Posts

The Power of Pressure

Stress is a normal part of how we go through life, and in today’s workplace, it’s unavoidable. In fact, according to a study by staffing firm Accountemps, rising workplace pressure has more than half of American employees stressed at work. And in our always-available culture, the pressure to be an ideal employee is higher than ever.

However, pressure can be positive. Without pressure, we lack a clear motivator to meet deadlines or get stuff done. Managers and employees should avoid buckling under pressure and instead determine how to leverage pressure to get results.  

Our Guest: Dane Jensen, Third Factor

On our latest WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Dane Jensen, CEO of Third Factor and an instructor at the Smith School of Business at Queens University. At Third Factor, Dane helps leaders be more creative and resilient under pressure. He works with athletes, coaches, leaders, and boards across Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic sports system to enhance national competitiveness. 

For Dane Jensen, pressure isn’t just stress nightmares. It’s actually a powerful motivator and our best tool to get through some of life’s big moments, including that work presentation next week:

“Pressure is basically…a big ball of energy. It’s a feeling in the pit of your stomach, it’s a physiological response that puts you in an activated state. It’s energy, and it is the energy that’s under pressure that actually gives us the capacity to handle the challenges that create it,” Dane says. 

The Power of Pressure

Pressure is often something that we avoid and respond to negatively, but Dane says that tapping into the energy of pressure is the key: 

“(Using) pressure as an advantage…starts with (what) Carl Young said decades ago: “What we resist, persists.” When we try to push it away, it just magnifies it. And so our ability to actually see the opportunity in pressure starts with a bit of a mindset flip on, okay, what am I going to do with this energy as opposed to trying to push it away?”

Resilience for the Win

What’s one tool for tapping into the power of pressure? Resilience. Dane says that pressure often causes the need for resilience. 

“When we talk about managing pressure, some of that skillset is pure performance oriented. How do we access performance on demand? But a lot of the skillset is around resilience. How do we regain our shape when we’ve been knocked off balance? How do we actually gain from high pressure periods?” Dane says. 

Dane believes that pressure empowers us to access the most resilient parts of ourselves: 

“It’s the energy under pressure that gives us the muscle memory to recover when we get knocked off balance. (Pressure means) I got a chance, I got a shot, I can impact this thing.”

Lessen Uncertainty, Master Pressure

Over the last few years, uncertainty has colored every part of our lives. Especially when it comes to what kind of work culture we’ll be seeing in the coming years. Dane says uncertainty breeds pressure and offers tips for how to address it:  

“The first imperative under uncertainty is to minimize it. Take direct action on the things that you can control (to) create little pockets of certainty. It can be as simple as routine. What is the five step routine that I’m going to do every morning before my virtual commute from the kitchen to my home office? What’s the five step routine I’m going to do at the end of the day?”

The Future of Work

Dane believes the future will see a shift in the way we’ll come together when we step away from the screens for face-to-face interactions.  

“The in-person stuff is going to really be rejuvenated in some interesting and unique ways. When we do get together, I think the level of care and attention to detail and experience design that’s going to get layered onto it, and I think is going to be quite unique.”

I hope you enjoyed this episode of #WorkTrends. To learn more about the power of pressure, contact Dane Jensen on LinkedIn.

A Holiday Survival Guide from the Hallmark Channel

During the holiday season, “good will to all” is an easy leadership reminder. Have you considered the Hallmark Channel for a few more?

This week begins my favorite television viewing time of the year. Early Fall is nice with the unveiling of new shows, and the sweeps months always offer excitement, but the holidays marks the Hallmark Channel’s “Countdown to Christmas.” My excitement is not a hipster attempt at being ironical. I really like these made-for-television movies. I concede that they are cheesy, yet they are also fun, heartwarming, and a rare occasion when my wife and I can enjoy some quality TV time together.

In watching countless Hallmark holiday movies, I’ve noticed a few trends that will make you a better leader. I encourage you to view a few of these television gems, but before you do, here are three lessons to keep in mind as you enjoy this holiday tradition.

Santa isn’t the only one who is predictable

All of the Hallmark holiday movies tell the same basic story. The main character tends to be self-centered, ambitious, and/or has misaligned priorities. Through the course of two hours, they realize their shortcomings and make the right decision just in time for Christmas Eve or, if it’s a real nail-biter, Christmas Day.

Before you minimize the power of a fairly repetitive formula, let’s examine Google’s hiring criteria. In their tens of thousands of data points related to on-the-job success, Google determined that the most important character trait of a leader is predictability. This may not sound exciting, but Google’s evidence-based approach found that a predictable, consistent leader can more effectively remove roadblocks from their employees’ path. Employees are then able to grasp “that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want.”

“If a leader is consistent, people on their teams experience tremendous freedom, [but if] your manager is all over the place, you’re never going to know what you can do, and you’re going to experience it as very restrictive.”—Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations at Google

Where are your fellow elves?

As our main character goes through their transformation, they are always surrounded by a core support system. There’s the sassy co-worker/best friend, the demanding but lovable boss, the cute kid (typically the child of the love interest or an orphan), and the seemingly irrelevant elderly wise person. Each plays a role in pushing our hero closer to the finish line—the best friend forces the workaholic to go to the “big party,” the boss provides focus, the kid brings heart, and the elder provides poignant advice when the main character loses his/her way (which always happens in the last 20 minutes of the movie).

Maintaining a solid support system is not just a holiday movie storytelling trope. A classic study suggests that for the “leadership dream” to be realized, we must construct and sustain a group of people who believe in, challenge, and encourage our success. These individuals are not “yes-men” or subordinates, but allies and peers who have the freedom to provide truthful but less-than-popular feedback.

Barrel through like a flying sleigh in Manhattan

The main character of every holiday movie always has some type of “last chance” performance on the line. This may be a sales pitch meeting to close a new account, an article deadline for their newspaper/magazine, or the big city council meeting to save the foster home. The stakes are high and one flub will be a calamity.  Spoiler alert: they always persevere and come out on top.

If you want the same outcomes as our hero, there are only two things to remember. One, you need inspiration. The first half of the movie delivers the motivation needed to re-prioritize, enthuse, and give focus. Then it takes work. The movies illustrate this through an angst-ridden montage of crumpled papers, debates in front of a chalkboard, and a late night marathon session of frantic labor all with a classic R&B soundtrack. You don’t need to be so dramatic, but when the pressure is on, you must be able to channel your anxiety into constructive energy.

Becoming a better leader does not need to rely on the miracles of the holiday season.  Sure, we could get into the different genres of Christmas movies—“Santa Claus is real and needs your help” or “I woke up as a younger/older version of myself”—but I recommend starting your holiday movie experience with a more grounded setting. Look for one starring Candace Cameron Bure, Lori Loughlin, or any one of your favorite 1980/90s sitcom legends. Then sit back with your hot cocoa, put your feet up, and let the leadership lessons flow.