8th October 2020 – We are all under pressure right now. The ongoing COVID crisis, the deepening recession, our inability to plan for the future, these challenges have all created a cocktail of unease.
We are all under pressure right now. The ongoing COVID crisis, the deepening recession, our inability to plan for the future, these challenges have all created a cocktail of unease.
As leaders, our first responsibility is to look after our people. I read a report recently saying that workers in the UK are experiencing genuine feelings of grief as a result of COVID; they are in mourning for their old lives and livelihoods.
My first question when I check in with members of my team is: “How are you doing?” It’s so important to check in on those around us, and ask how we can help them feel better supported day to day.
It took me by surprise when someone asked me how I was doing. As an entrepreneur, you never think about your own mental health or wellbeing. You just keep on pushing on to the next goal. You are preoccupied with the needs of your customers and colleagues.
So, how am I doing?
I really had to think about that one.
In a recent episode of Kevin Keegan’s Secrets of Leadership, the former England manager told me that the best way to deal with pressure is to be honest about your feelings. It’s unhealthy to bottle everything up, he explained, and you can only move forward if you are clear and direct with your team about what needs to change and why.
I believe I’m honest to a fault. There are many times over the years when I’ve let my feelings out: I’ve been frustrated that we’ve lost a deal, or wanted to pull my hair out at a technical issue I couldn’t solve immediately.
But the truth is that I deal really well with pressure. I don’t feel anxious or worried in the same way as some people, because I approach pressure in a certain way. In my mind, no challenge is insurmountable; every new crisis is a problem to be solved or an opportunity to improve.
It’s worth explaining that I know I’m atypical. I am used to a lot of uncertainty and always have been. My parents worked for themselves so there were a lot of ups and downs when I was a kid. Some weeks we’d have money and other weeks things would be tough. It taught me to be resilient and made me a consummate problem-solver. I’m truly grateful for those early lessons in dealing with instability. They have helped me build several successful businesses.
I’d like to share what I’ve learned about handling pressure, in case it can help anyone else right now.
1.) Stay calm
When things are going horribly wrong, it’s tempting to panic. You can feel the pressure rising and your blood starts to boil. That’s the point when you need to take a few deep breaths and maintain your equilibrium. You cannot make good decisions when you are stressed and anxious. Do what you need to do to regain your sense of calm, whether it’s a walk outside, a chat with someone you trust or a cup of tea.
2.) Don’t hide from the problem
Whatever is going wrong, you need to face it head on. You can’t put your head in the sand. Write down the problem so you can stare at it and properly mull over a solution. Don’t shy away from asking the tough questions. The more you think about an issue, the more likely it is that you will come up with an effective plan.
3.) Think outside the box
I know it sounds like a cliché but it’s completely true: when dealing with a challenge you need to let your mind explore new and unusual solutions. Don’t just stick to the same old approaches, if they are not working for you. To help you come up with novel ideas, speak to people who think very differently to you, who have different skills. I get so many amazing ideas from my children, who have wildly different interests and work in very different industries.
4.) Learn from the problem
Every single thing that goes wrong is an opportunity to learn. Even a crisis like COVID has the potential to strengthen your business and help you develop as a leader. Problems should never occur twice. You need to create a process that provides a permanent fix.
Kevin’s advice about the importance of being honest about pressure is spot on. You need to talk to your team – calmly and openly – about the challenges you face, and make sure they are all working with you to find or implement a solution.
This five-step process is the reason my answer to the question: ‘How are you doing?’ was, quite honestly: I’m doing fine. I have a brilliant team around me and I feel confident that BigChange can weather any storm.
Feeling fine means that it’s my duty and my privilege to keep on asking how you all are, and how I can help you to feel better, if you are under pressure right now. If you need a chat or a few words of motivation, let me know.