Women Leading U P (Under Pressure)

December 15, 2010 by Erin Casey 

Is crisis the new normal?
by Erika Hayes James

With the financial scandals, terrorism, natural catastrophes and numerous notable organizational disasters, including the BP oil spill and the Toyota recall, that have rocked the country during the past decade, you may be starting to wonder whether crises, generally defined as rare and extreme occurrences, are the new normal.

It is undeniable that the state of business has become increasingly complex. With that complexity comes a greater likelihood that things will go wrong, and sometimes in catastrophic ways. More often, however, organizations are simply experiencing a heightened level of pressure to compete globally, manage diverse stakeholder needs, and produce more with fewer resources.

There are several hallmarks that characterize an organization under pressure.
•    Expectation of immediate decision-making and action. Do your clients demand immediate response to questions? Do you feel a need to shortcut analytic rigor in order to produce a response or deliverable? Do you feel your deadlines are unduly short?
•    Time pressure. Do you find that there is inadequate time in the day, week or month to achieve your work objectives? Are you multitasking in ways that are likely to generate costly errors?
•    Public and stakeholder scrutiny. Is your work subject to public scrutiny? Do you have multiple internal or external stakeholders who depend on you and your work, or who have considerable influence over your work and career?
•    Inadequate information. Are you constantly making decisions with inadequate information, or do you find yourself inundated with so much information that you struggle to make sense of it all?
•    Limited resources. Do you have insufficient resources (people and financial) to deliver quality output?

The more you answer “yes” to any of these questions, the more you are operating under intense pressure, and the more likely it is that problems, or a crisis, will occur. In fact, according to the research conducted by the Institute for Crisis Management, in 2009 more than half of all crises were due to mismanagement, not an external event.

The challenge is to develop a leadership orientation that will allow you to go from merely surviving under pressure to thriving in it. People who skillfully lead under pressure have certain character traits that allow them to think differently, and more positively, about organizational problems and threatening situations.

Reflect, learn and adapt. People who are able to adjust to the rapidly increasing pace of change, and to learn from the failures and successes, are positioned to lead effectively under pressure.

Scan the environment and see possibilities. People with this leadership trait can identify new patterns, see ways to do things differently, and spot a potential trend long before others can.
Recognize the potential for opportunity. Pressure-laden and threatening situations can present amazing opportunities. People who can see the light during dark times can lead their teams to success.

Expect mutual trust and respect. No one functions alone in times of peril, and cooperation only comes when you have proven yourself to be a trustworthy leader. Such trust is earned by extending trust to others.

The timing is right for women to step into the challenges of leading under pressure. Interestingly, research shows that firms with a higher proportion of women in executive positions perform better in recessionary times than firms with fewer women at such levels. Although it would be inappropriate to conclude from this research that women are naturally skilled in leading under pressure, there is no doubt that the perspective and experiences of operating under pressure that women bring to organizations can add tremendous value.

About the Author
Erika Hayes James is an expert on two critical issues facing today’s corporate and political environments: crisis leadership and workplace diversity. As a speaker, teacher and consultant on these topics, she explores the competencies necessary to lead organizations throughout the life cycle of a business crisis.

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One Response to “Women Leading U P (Under Pressure)”

  1. Sarah Cook @RaisingCEOKids on December 22nd, 2010 9:36 am

    Thank you Erika for the thoughtful article on dealing with pressures in life and business and leading UP! It is important that we teach our kids to do the same things!

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