• Jeff Doolittle

Leadership Pressure is a Privilege



Leadership creates pressure. In the Netflix series, The Playbook, Doc Rivers shares a philosophy that inspired the Boston Celtics to a championship and his response to racism while being the Los Angeles Clippers head coach. One valuable lesson he shared for leaders to consider is that pressure is a privilege. In speaking with frontline to c-suite leaders from organizations across different industries, one common theme is that today's leaders are under immense pressure. It is easy for leaders to become overwhelmed amid the fast pace digital business environment. According to a recent leadership survey, eighty-eight percent of leaders indicate that work is the principal source of stress in their lives, and their leadership role increases stress levels. Leading successful organizations creates both personal and professional high-pressure situations that result in stress. It is easy to think of pressure as a negative and something to be avoided, but should you?


"A soft, easy life is not worth living if it impairs the fiber of brain and heart and muscle. We must dare to be great, and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage." Theodore Roosevelt

What is the alternative to leadership pressure? No productive conflict? No goals? No board meetings? No difficult customers? No organizational talent challenges? Modern organizations are like pressure cookers. Leaders serve as pressure relief valves preventing catastrophic disasters and when needed increasing organizational pressure to maximize performance. Here are a few reasons to embrace the leadership journey and the stress it brings.


Pressure Creates Change


Leadership is about change, and change can be challenging. In the book Leading Change, renowned change management thought leader John Kotter identified that overcoming complacency to change requires a sense of urgency. Leaders in a fast-changing world need to be influential in articulating their vision and paradoxically open to change as the vision becomes irrelevant in the world's turbulence. Leading change creates pressure and stressful situations. While too little or too much stress creates anxiety and health problems, research at UC Berkeley demonstrated that some stress improves performance and health. Pressure influences leaders and organizations to change and reject the status quo. No organization is looking to stay the same, and pressure is a powerful change agent for creating a sense of urgency.



Pressure Creates Learning


Leaders need to be perpetual learners because the future is unpredictable. However, shouldn't the learning process be as pressure and stress-free as possible? A foundational research study on learning discovered that an element of struggle significantly improves long-term retention. While pressure can slow the learning rate at the moment, it improves long-term retention and application transfer. Pressure creates desirable difficulty and enhances the learning opportunity and the opportunity for personal and professional growth.