Monday, October 04, 2010

Using pressure the right way

People achieve their best when under a certain degree of pressure; but too much pressure or the wrong kind of pressure can result in stress and a reduction in a person’s effectiveness.  For example, the nerves most people experience before giving a presentation can help you stay sharp – too few nerves and you might come across as being too relaxed or even blazĂ©; while too many nerves can be so debilitating that you fail to perform. 

Wise leaders know that it is good to give people roles, responsibilities and tasks that are just beyond their current capability. This stretches people and helps them develop.  Achieving stretch goals can also help build a person’s confidence, making them capable and willing to stretch themselves a little further next time.  But give people a task that is too far beyond what they can already do and it has the opposite effect – leading to a lack of confidence, anxiety and stress.

The key to understanding where the tipping point is between too little pressure and too much pressure is confidence. 

In training, athletes will frequently set themselves new targets, continuously pushing themselves to achieve higher and higher standards. But why don’t they simply set a winning target and work towards it?  The reason is that as human beings we perform best when our confidence is continually boosted by a succession of achievements; and with each success comes the impetus, momentum and confidence to aim for something even higher.

The secret to using pressure effectively is therefore to set lots of little targets that are stretching but achievable; and to then congratulate yourself and celebrate your success with each and every achievement.

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