How much pressure are you under right now?
Do you consider your pressure helpful or stressful?
How do you know the difference?
Leaders navigate within the realm of pressure; it’s part of the landscape. It’s how we handle the pressure that makes all the difference.
Pressure is a much-talked-about subject because the related struggles are a common issue. Yet, the less common but important topic is why a certain amount of pressure in a leader’s life is necessary and good.
We know that too much pressure, especially sustained, harms your leadership. It can hurt you mentally, physically, emotionally, and even spiritually.
But too little pressure is equally harmful. It can result in your leadership beginning to coast, sloppy thinking, minimal preparation, and the church (or department) getting stuck.
A good picture of this is your blood pressure. Both high blood pressure (hypertension) and low blood pressure (hypotension) have potentially serious outcomes if left unattended. Just like there is a healthy zone for your blood pressure, there is a healthy zone for your leadership pressure.
As human beings, we tend to seek the easiest path. That’s natural; in fact, in many ways, it’s normal. We like to park close to the event, we avoid some confrontations, and someone else doing the cooking is always welcome!
But many of life’s most important things, and their outcomes, are found on the road less traveled. Like exercise for the purpose of better health, it’s only sustained through discipline and internal pressure to stay consistent.
Life doesn’t typically reduce your level of pressure, especially in leadership; it calls for us to learn how to manage it better.
Managing your pressure in healthy ways includes things like:
- Cultivating margin
- Intentional soul care
- Someone to talk to
- Knowing your limits
- Right-sizing the problem
However, this post focuses on how the right amount of pressure is needed and helpful. The pressure that makes us better.
How much pressure is the right amount?
The right amount of pressure in your life as a leader lifts you out of your comfort zone but never places you in a crushing zone. Instead, the right amount of pressure keeps you in a growth zone.
4 ways the right amount of pressure is helpful
1) Pressure creates the impetus for us to start and complete.
Internal and external pressure leveraged toward positive outcomes creates the impetus for us to start and complete the things that matter.
You’ve heard these quotes:
- “Starting is half the battle.”
- “Without a deadline, nothing is completed.”
Starting something new or taking a fresh new approach brings energy in itself. Even starting a difficult task or an uncomfortable conversation brings a sense of forward-moving energy.
Finishing something you started is personally rewarding and is an uplifting boost to your soul.
Your internal drive or an external challenge from a coach, spouse, or friend is often just what is needed to get you out of the starting blocks or across the finish line.
- What do you need to start this week?
- What do you need to finish?
If you don’t have the necessary internal drive, give someone permission to add “encouraging pressure” to help you get going.
2) Pressure helps nudge us to make a tough decision or take a risk.
External pressure often comes in the form of time or from your team. Time is always a pressure for a leader, and you can prevent organizational bottlenecks by deciding so your team can keep moving.
It doesn’t help your leadership to miss deadlines or procrastinate frequently. Instead, allow the external pressure from the clock or your team to help you overcome your resistance to make the tough decision.
These kinds of deadlines are a helpful kind of pressure. Embrace them.
When you sense that momentum has declined and you see the need for the church to move forward, embrace that internal pressure to take the risk and get going again.
3) Pressure helps us do some of our best thinking.
Every week I write a post for my blog like the one you are now reading. It requires about 3½ – 4 hours, and that time is broken up into three segments over three days.
Occasionally I’ll go over 4 hours, but here’s what I’ve learned, more hours don’t necessarily mean a better post.
The pressure to focus deeply and write clearly within a timeline produces some of my best thinking. My hunch is that will work for you too.
The internal pressure to write a post in 3.5 hours also clarifies my thinking. There is something powerfully tangible about committing your thoughts to paper. You quickly discover the thoughts that are strong and hold up and the ones that break down upon deeper reflection.
Of course, this kind of pressure is not something you want all day, every day, but applied to one or two things a week, like a sermon, a blog post, or a chapter of a book, is highly beneficial.
As a side benefit, this pressure elevates energy, creating speed and momentum. Again, you can’t do that all week, but sometimes fast is necessary! Pressure and experience help you gain speed and quality.
4) Pressure helps us focus on priorities.
My hunch is that you have more things to do, people to talk with, lessons to write and deliver, problems to solve, etc., than fit in your calendar.
If you are a young leader, learn to handle this pressure early because it’s not going to lessen. But, on the other hand, if you are a seasoned leader, take heart; as you gain more wisdom about your true values, your priorities become clearer.
As a young leader, I believed everything was a priority, I still struggle with that some, but I’ve learned that even if I think they are all top priorities, I cannot allow myself to treat them like they are.
The pressure of leading well, in combination with a deep heart connection and commitment to personal values, helps us focus on real priorities.