Leading Under Pressure can be emotionally challenging

Anton Guinea is an entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, bestselling author and founder of The Guinea Group. Over the past 17 years, with over 150+ global organisations, he has inspired workplace leadership, safety and cultural change. He’s achieved this by combining his corporate expertise, education (Bachelor of Psychology), and infectious energy.

The 2022 leader arrives at work. They see a new and long list of emails unread and cannot possibly understand how they all came in overnight. They see their phone starting to buzz with messages and requests for their time. They think that today might be the day that they finally lose their self-control. And they know that they aren’t behaving in a way that a great leader would. How can they? They are nervous, worried, anxious…they are under pressure.

And there is no letting up.

If it’s not COVID and sick leave, it is some other crisis or event that they have to respond to. And then a disgruntled client calls to say they are moving their business to another provider…

Just think about what their teams must be going through, if the leader is under so much pressure.

How can leaders take a step back, and pull themselves out of the stress and pressure that they find themselves in? Here are the nine things that leaders can do, quickly and easily to help ‘create conscious control’ now. These are grouped into three areas – control, care, and courageous decision making.


Name your emotion

This is a key step. It is front and centre for a reason. You won’t believe how much personal power you can take back during high pressure situations just by reflecting on what you are feeling. The physical process of dealing with pressure involves a release of cortisol from the pituitary gland, which precedes the release of adrenalin. This can lead to a real fight, flight, or freeze sensation. Naming the emotion, even if it is not positive, it will help you to channel it into the right behaviour

Channel your behaviour 

With an understanding of what you are feeling, you will be in a better position to not let your emotions control your behaviour, and think with greater clarity. You can go from reacting to responding. From using your limbic system to using your frontal lobe (aka – the logical and processing part of your brain). 

Control the situation

Now you can think fast and talk slow. You can take control of what is going on around you. You can look left, and look right, and start to think about how to manage the moment, manage the pressure, or manage the crisis.


Ask questions

Ask quality questions and listen very carefully for the answers. Your team will be able to support you – they want to, but they can’t if you don’t hear them and engage with them. Team members that aren’t heard are hurt – especially when the pressure is on. Care enough to give your team a voice, so that they don’t fear being rejected, ridiculed or resented for their contribution. Aka – creating psychological safety.

Keep your team out of harm’s way

Psychological safety is important, so is physical safety. Rule number 1 is to keep your team away from dangers. And to mitigate hazards and risk. Easier said than done, in crisis events particularly, but if it comes down to a priority call like ‘schedule over safety’, or ‘saving money over safety’, put safety first, make it your priority. Your team will thank you for it. And no life or limbs will be lost.

Connection not direction

Care enough to unpack how your team is feeling, and why. What are they going through? How can you support them, just as you need them to support you? Care enough to communicate in a way that brings you closer, not forces you apart. Look for connection, not to give direction. Yes, direction is needed (see below), but so is a methodology that is based on a human approach, not a robotic one. 


Face your fears

Lean into what is troubling you and address it. Don’t procrastinate. Understand what is causing the fear or the anxiety and work through why. Change your focus and think about what could go right if you make the decision, not what could go wrong. Imagine the positives, not the negatives. 

Make decisions

Whether it is to delegate, to prioritise, to engage with others, or to do nothing (if appropriate), make the decision, and move forward. Don’t second guess yourself. Know that all your decisions won’t be the right one but own them anyway. You will get a blessing if everything goes well, and a lesson if it doesn’t. Keep things in perspective, but be decisive. Get into action.

Look to the future

Where do you want to be in the future, once you are through this high-pressure period? Both short and long term. What do you want your team to look like? What do you want your business to look like? What do you want your leadership to look like? And what do you want your life to look like? Look to the future and make decisions that bring that future into being.

From a state of conscious control, you can lead, manage and direct your team to the best possible outcomes.

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