Better Choices, Better Outcomes

Pressure – friend or foe?

NZ’s building industry continues to surge, and demand for our sector’s products and services remains high. Whilst this may be good news for many, it can mean that people are feeling the pressure and systems are being tested.

 Living beyond the “red line” is possible only for short bursts or for a set period. Then, something gives – the team, customer relationships, margins. However, some pressure is necessary for us to learn, move forward and grow. It’s just a question of mindset.

Last year I had the privilege of attending “Performance Under Pressure”, an event hosted by Athletics NZ and the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. We heard from four of NZ’s top sportspeople: Hamish Carter, Mahe Drysdale, Valerie Adams and Richie McCaw, who all spoke about how they deal with and use pressure to achieve more, and how they overcome setbacks and failures. All Blacks mental skills coach, Gilbert Enoka, introduced us to the concept that pressure is a privilege which we should embrace, because only in the presence of pressure do we see how far we can go.

Forensic psychiatrist, Ceri Evans, suggested that we should look within ourselves in order to understand what is holding us back. Past experiences and reactions can become “automatic pre-programmed responses” which limit our performance and ability to improve. But, if we “normalise pressure” and “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” then pressure can actually be our friend.

I often talk with my clients about the “right amount” of pressure. Just as water in a pipe won’t flow without pressure, so a business relies on some kind of force to facilitate sales, information, materials, tasks and relationships. It doesn’t take much to maintain momentum, but it does take effort to start and re-start. The most effective systems have good regular flow, with a consistent amount of the right kind of pressure being applied along the way.

As business leaders, the buck stops with us. Ultimately, we’re the ones who are responsible for the work getting done and ensuring that targets are met. For this to happen, teams need the right amount of support, coaching, training – and pressure! Then they can develop and help each other achieve these goals for themselves and for the business overall.

I firmly believe that it’s our duty not only to provide the vision but to employ the appropriate driving force for success.

Lessons from the champions

  • Practise with the intent to win, not just for the sake of it. Aim to do a little better every day. With this mindset, you can become a champion.
  • Focus on the process. Experiment with tools and techniques that allow you to get into a headspace of absolute concentration where you feel genuinely present. It’s not about the tools themselves, it’s about the approach you take to solve the problem.
  • Have open and honest conversations with your people. What’s working, and what’s not? Make it about the team, never about an individual. Excellence starts from the top – set the tone, be punctual, be respectful, be the example.
  • Remember that ultimately you can’t win if you don’t play!

Just a final word. Beware of those who regard any kind of pressure as bad. There’s certainly a fine line between positive and negative pressure, but it’s the business owner’s responsibility to promote the right mindset and unlock the potential that exists within.

Ian Featherstone is a business and leadership coach, and the owner of Glass Half Full. He specialises in the construction industry, particularly the joinery & cabinetry sector.

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