Number 1 Reason You Buckle Under Pressure

CEO coach shares the No. 1 reason you buckle under pressure—and 4 ways highly successful people avoid it

Successful people need to make great decisions under pressure. CEOs across the country are failing at it.


That’s according to Chris Mailander, who coaches CEOs on high-stakes decision-making. From recent collapses of U.S. banks to high-profile corporate fraud, the country’s business leaders are repeatedly making crucial mistakes during crunch time, he says.


Those errors all have something in common, says Mailander: When you’re faced with a make-or-break decision, you need to act quickly instead of leaving the button-push until the last minute.


Everyone faces time-sensitive decisions, not just CEOs. You might be on a tight deadline at work, or need to place a last-minute dinner order before the restaurant closes. Your decisions go awry when you allow the pressure of the moment to affect you, says Mailander.


Here are his top four strategies to avoid that fate.

Embrace dissent
Under pressure, it’s easy to go with your gut and ignore counterarguments to save time. Squash that impulse, says Mailander.


If used correctly, disagreement can be a productive tool, Yale University researchers found in 2016: You’re more likely to find dissent useful when you approach others’ perspectives as valuable information, rather than arguments to defeat.


Know your blind spots
Forming a network of devil’s advocates can help you avoid blind spots. Otherwise, you can fall victim to the “fallacy of success,” Mailander says.


Mailander says one of his clients, a startup, uses a quarterly blind spot check-in exercise to avoid that fate. The startup’s executives dedicate time each quarter to ask each other questions like: How do we see more? How do we avoid falling into bad patterns of behavior?


This can be discovered during a SWOT analysis exercise.

Make the unexpected a part of your routine
Preparing for the unexpected, as you might expect, isn’t easy. It comes down to having “a very conscious process for decision-making,” says Mailander.


In other words, pressure decisions become more manageable when you can break them down into replicable steps. Look at how commanders of nuclear submarines prepare, Mailander says: They have to anticipate future problems, design processes to handle them and practice them until they become routine.


You can preempt that last-minute decision by laying out the pros and cons of each role ahead of time, which can help you prioritize in the moment. Know who in your life you can seek out for trusted advice, and plan to give them a call, too.

Pay attention when the rules change
In times of crisis, normal rules can go out the window. Workplaces suddenly looked very different when COVID arrived, for example.


Most people withdraw when faced with these “trigger points,” says Mailander. “They put their head down to try to withstand whatever pressures come through.”


Successful decision-makers see those trigger points as opportunities, Mailander says. Those might include the people who realized that breaking up screen-time and limiting virtual meetings could support their mental health, and make them more productive than they’d been in-person.


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A really good article with 4 ways to avoid buckling under pressure.

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