Consider for a moment, a pot of water boiling on the stove. As the temperature rises, the molecules become excited and start colliding with each other as water changes to steam.
As the boil intensifies you hear the rumble within. If you wait long enough and the flame is hot enough, the lid will blow off and the boiling water will overflow. If the container is sealed, it will explode.
Change comes in many forms and it affects all of us. Yet we all cope with it in different ways. Our modern world is ever changing; our ever shifting reality affects our physical health, relationships and happiness. The next time you’re in a meeting, look around and pick out the people who appear to be in pain. The people who are straining as if they’re carrying a heavy burden.
When management announces: “We’re changing course, going in a different direction.” Pay attention. People around you will begin to physically change. Some will actually feel ill.
As humans, we yearn for stability. Something enduring we can rely upon… but change is always. It is a disruptive constant.
As a leader, change is always something you need to understand, navigate and manage well. How does change affect you?
Pressure is an invisible force that tells you things are changing - Rob McKenna, CEO, WiLD Leaders
Think back to the last time a meeting or conversation turned awkward. How did you know? A “feeling” in the room?
What about the last time you were having a conversation and someone blew up, got angry, boiled over… did you notice the pressure building? What changed?
Sometimes we can feel change happening, but not understand what is changing. It could be a slightly different feel in a relationship. It could be a slight change in tone of voice.
How often do we feel uneasy, wondering why things don’t feel quite normal? This lack of clarity or direction creates pressure, stress and anxiety.
Pressure is a necessary and useful tool in leadership and management. Personal and professional growth necessitates the ability to withstand certain pressures and situations, yet pressure can be used carelessly, it can be weaponized, it can be withheld – all of which can result in the creation of vulnerable and damaged people.
As pressure rises, leaders need to quickly recognize it, discern where it is coming from, what change it indicates and what the options for venting this pressure are for ourselves and for our teams.
In my last article, I discussed me or we, the foundational choice of every leadership philosophy. The we perspective “commits to being the roof which covers the team. We keeps the team dry as the storm rages…” Leaders must distinguish which types of pressure are theirs to bear and which should be allowed to impact the team.
Leaders have the ability to accept or reject pressure on behalf of others. To insulate or to expose… It’s your choice. You own the outcomes. As a leader you have responsibility and a certain amount of authority granted to you. You should set parameters for how things will run within your group.
This expectation should be communicated and reinforced not just within your team but to upper management, other departments, stakeholders, etc. By thoughtfully constructing your program and the way in which you will and will not do business, you have the opportunity to say no to many external pressures aimed at your group.
You have the ability to opt out of so many “great ideas” which will add unnecessary pressures to your team.
This ability to walk away from external forces is directly related to the professionalism of your structure, strategy and execution – and your reputation as a leader.
If your reputation is that of a me leader, you will struggle much more in this area. If your reputation is that of a we leader, then you’re collaborative, you strive to work well with others and your team will be a stronger, more cohesive and more productive group.
Pressure equals altercation. The excitement of molecules by heat causes us to collide with one another.
Every altercation, even minor frictions or disagreements, have the possibility of escalation. As pressure rises, people tend to assume you have ill-intent. It is a fear induced response. These altercations can be with upper management, your peers or within your team.
Leaders, like chefs, must strategically manage the temperatures across their range. Disagreement isn’t a bad thing. It is how progress is made and solutions are discovered. It’s also how boundaries are set. We must be thoughtful in how we engage and to what end… so question why are you engaging in this altercation.
Assuming best intent in others is a great way to control the flame. When you feel attacked, when someone embarrasses you, when the winds of change signal a storm on the horizon, you can choose to assume the other person did not mean to accost you, but instead were thoughtless with their words or… having trouble managing pressure on their end.
We can choose to leave room for mistaken delivery. We can leave a bit of grace to allow them the opportunity to rephrase and maintain their dignity. This goes a long way to strengthen relationships and foster goodwill.
Allowing yourself to react against unpleasant interactions is a natural and easy thing to do, but doing this adjusts the flame to become hotter. Be thoughtful and wise. Remember, like the boiling pot, turning the flame down does not immediately cool the pot or the water within…
Meaningful conversations are the key to managing temperature and uniting teams around purpose. Meaningful conversations solidify influence, direction and expectations. They are the foundation of trust.
Leaders must have the conversations that other people don’t want to have. By shying away from difficult conversations, you are actively allowing pressure to build, adding toxicity to your work environment. Leaders who hesitate to engage in uncomfortable and difficult conversations choose to walk away from the stove, leaving their teams and relationships to boil over harming the team and their relationships.
Meaningful conversations are the mechanism to maintaining a joyful environment. A willingness to engage in meaningful conversations quenches accusations and blame.
Change is always upon and around you. Pressure is always available for you and your people to bear. How will you choose which to allow and which to walk away from?
As you work with teams, leading projects and initiatives, you will need to adjust the flame. You must apply the right type of pressure and intensity to achieve optimum results. Pressure applied thoughtfully motivates, unites and produces world class results… ask any chef.
Applied carelessly, without purpose or understanding, pressure burns people. It creates anxiety, disillusion and explosive work environments. It leaves people scarred.
Will you commit to noticing the people and teams around you when change comes? When you know change is coming, will you attempt to forecast and address the inevitable pressures which accompany?
How does change always affect you? What unhealthy, unproductive tendencies do you have? How will you know when the flame is just right across all your burners? Be thoughtful when wielding pressure. Don’t leave your people to boil over…
You can find Tim on LinkedIn here.
The next installment of Crossroads in leadership will be released on 7 August! To read the previous installment, click here.