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pressurePRESSURE: the stress or urgency of matters demanding attention (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

How are you handling the pressure that comes with the role of CEO or executive leader these days? Are you one of those stoic types, stuffing your negative feelings—until you blow? Are you one of those whose stress shows all over your face, leaking out whether you want it to or not? Are you one of those who feels exhilarated from the pressure and finds it drives you to even better performance? Are you one of those who appears a bit cranky or short-tempered? Or are you something else or a combo?

The pressure we react to in the workplace comes from both external and internal places. External demands are those put on us from others: increased workload, unreasonable deadlines, financial security, competing priorities or clashing principles. Internal demands are those we put on ourselves, including our drive to achieve, to be perfect, to please, or to do everything all by ourselves, never asking for help. Some of us blame external demands when the real culprit is not what someone else says, does or asks but our own reactions to them.

As a coach for executives, I can tell you pressure is simply a “normal” part of everyone’s work life, not something special or unique only to some. We are not even aware of it anymore until it’s really over the top. It’s a way of life that is not only expected but accepted without question now. How sad is that?

One of the hallmarks of CEOs and other executive leaders is the ability to withstand pressure from demands; that is, the ability to behave appropriately despite the triggers to normal human stress responses. Leaders must show confidence, competence, self-control and self-management in spite of feeling angry, overwhelmed, tense, worried or vulnerable. If they don’t, they run the double risk of modeling behavior that—if copied by others—would be unacceptable and/or feeling the regret of saying or doing something they wish they hadn’t.

I experienced a pressure crack the other day and it was a wake-up call. I know I can’t necessarily control external demands, but I am determined not to let the #$%^& run downhill. I’m not sure how but I know I don’t want to live this way. And I suspect there are plenty of other leaders out there who feel the same way.

Join me in reducing the pressure wherever you can and regaining some sanity in the world of work. Here are four effective ways for managing the pressures that come with a leadership role:

  1. Give yourself a break. You are human. At some point you are bound to experience the pressures that come with a busy career and life. Don’t beat yourself up about it.
  2. Take an actual break. Sometimes separating yourself from your stressors for a short period of time can help. If that isn’t working for you, it may be time to book a vacation.
  3. Ask for help. Make a concerted effort to fight any tendencies you may have to be perfect, to please others or to do everything all by yourself. Asking for help is not a weakness.
  4. Find someone you can confide in. When all else fails, it may be helpful to talk to a coach who can listen nonjudgmentally and guide you in working through the issues. When you’re ready, I can help with this!
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