Often we discover the essence of a concept or material, but analyzing it in extreme conditions. Take Leader Presence for example. A key leadership question is: Why should anyone follow you? By studying the qualities of recognized leaders – Oprah, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, etc. – people identify a wide variety of key characteristics, including authenticity, self-confidence, clarity of values, energy, ability to empower people, and agility. The question is whether an analysis of leaders who excel under pressure can help us focus on the key characteristics, especially since would-be-leaders can develop some of them with practice.
At the August Vistage New York CEO meeting, Jillian Murphy, co-author of Into the Storm: Lessons in Teamwork from the Treacherous Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race shared with the group leadership/teamwork lessons from a fascinating ocean race, in which many boats never finished and six people died. The story focuses on the AMF Rambler, a small boat that actually won the race – and how the team used an extraordinary level of teamwork: cooperation, trust, planning, and execution. (It was excellent!). It made me think about what we can learn about leadership from people under pressure.
Paul Sullivan delivers such an analysis in his book Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t . Studying people in business and sports who pull victory from the jaws of defeat (clutch) and those who have a relatively clear road to success and then fail (choke), he describes four key attributes essential for clutch performances, through stories of people like David Boies (attorney involved with prosecuting Microsoft for the US Dept. of Justice as well as Bush v. Gore), Tiger Woods (golf pro) and Larry Clarke (actor in Streamers). He narrows it down to four key characteristics;
1. The Power of Focus: Finding the key “leverage point” and mobilizing all your energy to gain the leverage/momentum desired, which allows you to withstand the immense pressures of distractions.
2. Maintaining Discipline: Being authentic, honest, credible and consistent with your value system, is key to a leadership. It’s the practice of discipline, so other people see it and respect you for it, that creates the leader presence to which audiences and followers will respond.
3. Adapting: Fighting the fight and not the plan is key to success, when circumstances change. As is the case in the Hobart Ocean Race, the unique storm required that everyone adapt to the situation, but continue to use the plans for how to work together, as leaders and team members, in order to survive. Discarding the values that underlie the plan for success, can lead to disaster.
4. Being Present: A state of heightened awareness and comfort with yourself, so you’re ready to respond for whatever comes your way. Contrast this with “stage-fright” in which you are uncomfortable and focused on your internal cues, rather than the external ones that dictate your response.
The next time that you’re confronted with a leadership situation – hopefully one that isn’t extreme – , think about these qualities and see whether you have what it takes to exert a leader presence to mobilize a team and get them to follow you.
Also share your experiences about having a leader presence under pressure. We can all learn from one another!