We are privileged to meet many leaders in various fields. Some of these fine people are respected and followed by thousands and some even by millions of people. Some are spiritual leaders and others head large business or civil organisations. All of them have in common the fact that they have to confront, at least on occasion, crisis situations that may threaten the viability and future of their organization. No wonder so many of them suffer from ulcers or other physical ills that may be the consequences of the severe pressures of their leadership positions.
We recently placed the following leadership gem in this column:
“We live in a culture of many words. Often we hear so many words that we are wary of believing them. Promises are so easy to make, reports are so easy to fabricate or corrupt, and opinions are such a volatile thing that it is not always wise to trust them. Over and above all the words that are spoken or not spoken, the nature of the mood or spirit of a leader is a powerful communicator. Few things are as inspirational as a calm attitude that we feel in a leader! Especially so when we sense that the calmness of spirit has depth of courage and strength behind it.”
Dr. Steven Covey
We were privileged to spend valuable time in the presence of Dr Steven Covey who died a few years ago. My son, Adriaan interviewed and profiled him at the time. Dr. Covey left a lasting impression of a calm intensity of spirit that inspired people around him. He was an international author and icon that was consulted by many heads of state and large organisations all over the world. He was widely respected for his wisdom and compassion. I was in his presence when he spoke of his abiding faith that was the foundation of his confidence and calmness of spirit.
Recently my son and I walked into the office of a leader of a large operation that has several thousand employees and are in the throes of a painful economic environment that threaten their future existence. It was inspirational to share experiences and impressions with this experienced senior manager. We know him well as a result of an extended business relationship. In spite of severe pressures he communicated a calm yet passionate spirit of confidence and courage that was a delight to share.
I was in the busy Centurion branch of Dischem recently and had occasion to speak to the manager of the large store, Johan Pienaar. He has always given us good service with an attitude of dropping whatever he was doing in order to cater to our needs. I asked him what he thought was the most important attribute of a good leader. He replied that he felt it was the ability to treat each member of his large staff as unique individuals. On a previous occasion I was going through the cashier tills. I asked the busy cashier what she thought of the store manager because I felt that there was a friendly and helpful atmosphere in the store. Her face lit up as she replied: ‘I like him. He never shouts at us!’ I found this response interesting and revealing. This is another example of a leader maintaining a calm intensity under pressure.
The blame syndrome
The most difficult tendency for a leader to control when in the midst of a war of pressures is to remain true to the most crucial asset of a leader, that of the people who work with him or her. Pressures seem to thrive in bringing out the worst in us and in a tendency to blame people around or over or under us.
There is something special in a leader or worker that will not succumb to the tendency to blame others but rather focus on the challenges and the processes of successful movement.
Trust between people is so easily destroyed when crisis situations crop up. Yet at the same time nothing develops trust as much as our positive actions when under pressure. This is the way that lasting respect and trust is built up over the years! My wife and I have a 50 year old marriage that is been built around a multitude of so-called crisis situations. I have no more precious heritage than my marriage and the faith we have together in the providence that guides our lives. Yet our relationship could have been destroyed a thousand times by the tendency to blame each other rather than cling to principles that protect and foster unity.
The next time
The next time you feel under severe pressure we suggest you pause and carefully consider the possible consequences of your actions. Our initial reaction to pressure situations is almost always to feel threatened in some form or other. Naas Botha, the well known Springbok fly half, made a famous statement years ago: ‘The Curry Cup is not won in May’.
From a leadership perspective be careful not to lose the trust of the people around you as a result of negative response to pressure situations.
Relationships at all levels are built mainly around our actions when under pressure!
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