pressure

Staying Cool Under Pressure

The work that I do as a school leader is often very exciting and demanding. Being responsible for  children, adults and high stakes results, requires me to tap into a wide range of skills I've accumulated over the years from setting a clear vision to motivating others when they're lacking confidence. Though I seldom have to explain why I do the work I do, many people are often curious about how I manage some aspects of my role that can be challenging.The question I'm most often asked is, "how do you stay so calm?" Years ago when I found myself in difficult situations, I would hear a little voice whispering "don't ever let them see you sweat."I don't hear that voice much these days, but my sense is that the mentality is baked in. The underlying mindset I hold onto is that appearing stressed seldom makes things easier. It's my responsibility as a good teammate and leader to remove barriers and sources of stress for others so they can focus on what matters most. Having played enough sports, I know that when a coach looks overwhelmed or worried, it impacts the way the team feels about the game.

Though the mindsets I hold are fundamental to the way I operate in difficult times, there are some actual technical/skill-based moves I repeatedly pull that help me stay "75 and Sunny" even in the midst of an unexpected hurricane.

1) Keep things in perspective: Whenever I find myself in the middle of stressful situation, I try my best to be mindful of the fact that there are 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week and 365 days in a year. The situation I'm handling begins to look small with respect to time and energy when I keep in mind that it's only one event at one point in my entire career.

2) Rallying my team: I have seldom dealt with a difficult situation alone. Even when I have final decision rights on the best course of action, I am never hesitant when it comes to pulling in thought-partners and key players who can help me remain focused on resources and options at my disposal. I know that my work is demanding and I can't do it without my team behind me. I also recognize that I'm not always the best person to handle critical steps in resolving complicated situations so I leverage the strengths of my team to get things done.

3) Finding the appropriate release: Experiencing stress and appearing to be stressed are not synonymous. I'm not a robot! I don't hide my emotions ad infinitum, but I find the appropriate time to release in a way that does not add fuel to the fire I am trying to extinguish. When I recently handled one of my most challenging crisis in the last year, I stayed focused on being logical and rational in the moment while mobilizing my team to take the best course of action to contain an isolated event that could have mushroomed into a nightmare. But trust me, immediately after the smoke settled, I went into a private room, ate several chocolate chip cookies and prayed. Once I was calm, I took a few minutes to chat with a teammate and mentor about the experience and how I was feeling.

4) Striving to achieve the best possible outcome: Being a leader requires you to strive for excellence in everything you do. You may drop the ball occasionally, but you always push yourself to learn and grow and to serve as a model for others. This can be dangerous though if you lose perspective and ignore reality while becoming obsessed with a vision to the point that your perfectionism hinders your ability to get things done. When you're trying to manage stress during a difficult situation, you can't be concerned about how far off the reality is with respect to what you would imagine in your ideal world. I don't have any survey results, but I'm willing to bet that no one who has ever been responsible for passengers on a sinking cruise line has worried about how much their guests would miss out on the wonderful five course dinner available in the dining hall. Your primary concern needs to be doing the best you can with the best you have in the moment even when that means good trumps great for the day.

As the old saying goes, "Keep Calm, and Carry On!"