Often, when coaching leaders on how to engage employees, I am asked: ‘So, how am I supposed to behave as a leader during stressful and high pressure times?’

It’s not easy to keep having compassionate communications and behave authentically when under extreme pressure.

However, often this pressure is caused by our own expectations and the fear of being judged. It takes a great amount of courage and self-awareness to recognise this.

When I was in an office job, I remember being extremely fascinated by people’s behaviours under pressure: I noticed frustration, aggression, passive-aggression, overly judgemental behaviours etc. I did fall into that too.

But I was also in awe to leaders who could keep it cool, behave calmly, observe silently, while regulating their own behaviours in a way that generated a sense of safety and empowerment to people around them.

Now that I work with leaders as a coach and consultant, I can appreciate these dynamics even more and I can perhaps offer a different perspective, although it’s a for ever learning journey.

The urgency with which my clients ask me to help with team motivation- whilst they go through several changes in the organisation, for instance- it’s extremely interesting to me. Because I can’t offer any magic!

The reality is that we do not motivate people – there is no such a thing. People get inspired, but motivation is solely an intrinsic thing.

We can – though – crash motivation, without even realising it.

Furthermore, very often, what crashes engagement is a lack of trust.

Trust means we value people and are comfortable with letting them do their job as we know they are equipped to do so.

Trust means we are giving people all they need to move the business forward and-of course- their career development.

On the opposite, there is no trust when we feel we can’t rely on them, we have the need to continuously criticise actions and discard things which are positive. Perhaps, we find ourselves parenting rather than creating adult conversations and equal partnerships.

There is no trust when we don’t allow time to think and talk, but we jump in with judgement and assumptions.

The latter seems to be a very sore point and one hard to point out to leaders.

Two things I am currently focusing on:

  • Holding listening forums where teams feel heard and they experiment the power of being listened. When we are listened to, we feel respected, when we feel respected, we feel safe and we tend to work better. Of course, Nancy Klein and her ‘Thinking Environment’ have been my hugest source of inspiration here. Yet, being a mother has helped me greatly with carving interrupted pockets of time to solely focus on my son. I noticed how his behaviour changes enormously after only a few minutes of pure attention.
  • Helping leaders to practice appreciation. Who doesn’t like being praised? I do ! Research shows that sincere praise increases motivation and focus. When we are appreciated, we feel good as when we are rewarded for something or we receive a gift or money. It is also said that the brain produces dopamine-which is associated with focus and memory- when we are praised.

So, listening and praising as a strategy to keep authentic conversations whilst under pressure.

A couple of more details on both:

  • When we listen we actively need to listen. So we encourage the other person to open up through our body language, our eyes expression, perhaps our smile. We are not just staring into the eyes of the speaker, but we are silently participating creating a safe environment.
  • When we praise, we praise genuinely . We are not forgetting things that need to be improved, but we are sincerely noticing and appreciating the other person. Praising is free but has to be sincere or most likely it will have the opposite effect.

I invite you to try a couple of things in your next one to one, or meeting or just when talking to your friends or partner :

  • Listen to them and avoid replying till you are completely sure they have finished. Show interest while you listen. You might not agree with what has been said, but you still want to show respect and hold back assumptions.
  • Start your next conversation with praising the person in front of you. The praise has to be genuine: you want to recognise a specific behaviour that you have sincerely appreciated in that person. Perhaps, open up all your meetings with a specific individual praise and see what happens !

I know it’s not easy to behave with integrity when under pressure and we might result in behaviours which are not very effective. However, the quality of the relationships we have during stressful times is key to solution finding.

How do you keep cool during pressurised times? Would love to hear your strategies and techniques!

Photo by Mickey O’neil on Unsplash

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