3 Reasons Leaders Fail Under Pressure – Will You?

Failing Street

Image by Chris Daniel via Flickr

[tweetmeme]High profile leadership failures can often be found in the news.  Mark Hurd resigns from Hewlett Packard after a sexual harassment investigation.  Louis Lower resigns from Horace Mann after a guilty plea for driving under the influence.  The highest profile of late is Tony Hayward’s resignation from BP while mishandling the gulf oil crisis.  How can these leaders be so successful that they are trusted in these critical roles then leave office in disgrace?

Paul Sullivan recently wrote Why Leaders Fail Under Pressure for Forbes.com.  Paul has been writing Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t. He cites the reasons why leaders choke.  He also noted that the leaders in his study had these traits before the critical moment arrived.  The three reasons leaders fail under pressure:

  1. Failing to accept responsibility.
  2. Overconfidence.
  3. Over valuing one’s importance.

The fact that you are reading a post with this title suggests you are not suffering from these issues.  At least not to the point of no return.  Avoiding the symptoms of failure is not enough.  You need to be successful.  What will make you great under pressure? Paul Sullivan found five traits.  What’s exciting is that this is not just ivory tower theory.  These characteristics will make those on the front line and in middle management better leaders as well:

  1. Focus – do you spend enough time on what is truly important or do you get distracted by the tyranny of the urgent?  Begin with the End in Mind and Put 1st Things 1st might help.
  2. Discipline – Do you lead by example?  Do you do the little things well?  Maybe you expect others to do as you say and understand why it is OK for you to cut some corners?  Self Discipline – The Missing Link to Great Leadership might be for you.
  3. Adaptability – We all know that this is a world in which we must be constantly adapting and growing.  When is the last time you received solid and challenging feedback from your boss, a peer, a subordinate, or a trusted friend?  It’s hard to find.  Seek it out.  Investing in Yourself could be the most important step to being a great leader.
  4. Being present – Do you know the issues your people are dealing with on a daily basis?  You can’t lead if you are not in touch.  Seek to understand.
  5. The push and pull of fear and desire – Do you feel the nerves when trying something new?  Do you feel the desire to be great?  Yes, you need to be confident.  Your people need to see your confidence.  Yet, you may be overconfident if you don’t have some healthy fear.  Inspirational Leadership balances fear, confidence, and desire.

[tweetmeme]Which of these 5 signs of greatness can you strengthen?  Do you need to purge any of the 3 warning signs?  Great leaders are always adapting and making themselves better.  What can you do to become a better leader today?


Click here to read Why Leaders Fail Under Pressure.  You can also see Forbes.com.

Please leave a comment below if you liked this article. You can also connect on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, subscribe via e-mail (right side bar), retweet, digg, or stumble this article. Your feedback is appreciated.

About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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7 Responses to 3 Reasons Leaders Fail Under Pressure – Will You?

  1. Christian,
    Thanks for sharing the 3 reasons leaders fail under pressure. That sums it up very well. Conversely, when you look at the 5 characteristics that you’ve outlined for being a better leader, they all center around being outside of yourself while at the same time ‘investing in yourself” and being open to constructive feedback. You ask what we can do to become better leaders. For me, I have to remind myself to not take constructive feedback personally. As Donald Trump always says “It’s not personal, it’s business.” Thanks for another great article on leadership.

    • Sherryl,

      Thank you for your comments. You have a great point about constructive feedback. It can be very difficult not to take it personally. We need that feedback though to reach our potential.


  2. Mark R Hamel says:

    Hi Chris,

    Very nice post! One characteristic that I think is implicit, if not explicit, is humility. A proper level of humility should enable the leader to recognize that they do not necessarily have all the answers (see overconfidence and over-valuing one’s importance) and that perhaps they themselves, or at least their organization contributed to the particular crisis. Humility is grounded in truth, not spin or denial.

  3. As you and your cited author mentioned, those leaders who failed under pressure were failing along the way. In other words, from the beginning their personal values did not match up to leadership values. Many people believe power corrupts absolutely but the fact is, everything we think, say, and do today is our choice. Many people follow the same choice patterns throughout their lives. My suggestion to all big corporations before hiring: Evaluate patterns of behavior before you hire.

    I enjoy reading your leadership articles Chris – would you like to guest blog for me sometime?

  4. lida dai dai says:

    Thank you for another great article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a perfect way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information.

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