How to handle pressure

My heart is racing. I can feel the steady hammering against my chest. Strong. Loud. My thoughts are spinning. Fast. Unstoppable.

‘What if I cannot meet the deadline?’

‘What if the result is too weak?’

‘What if I am not convincing enough in this important meeting?’

WHAT IF … I fail … I loose… I am not enough!?

The what-ifs kill my sleep. The pressure takes away my joy. The stress assassinates my peace. I am not me anymore … and I have no idea what to think … or do …

I hate these moments. This is not the life I want. This needs to STOP!

So I pause. I breathe. I think.

What if I walk away right now? Just leave the context. Remove myself from unhealthy expectations – even the ones I set up for myself.

I am wondering: Who told me that the meeting was that important? What is the measurement for a weak result? What is going to happen if the deadline is not being met?

I have given my circumstances too much power over my life. Somehow I attached myself to expectations that feel unhealthy. I need to walk away.

As I am sitting in silence and detaching myself from the expectation level, I am realizing how the pressure fades away. My heart beat slows down, I can breathe lightly. This is how I want to live my life.

I am realizing: I don’t need to leave physically. Moving mentally does the trick.

With a deep breath I get up. Ready to go back into the game. Smiling.

Do you have ‘career DNA’?

Why do some people walk on in their careers while others stop?

From any given cohort of young professionals, some will have ‘more’ career than others. ‘More’ in this context is simply put in hierarchy levels including corresponding increase of responsibilities and impact. Did you ever wonder what made some walk on where others stopped?

For sure, there are a lot of external factors – and many of them are luck-related. But aside from them, there are internal factors, too. The good news about internal success factors is: you have control over them and you can train them. Therefore, you can influence a lot of your professional life at any stage of your career – if you choose to do so.

Let’s think about some success factors that you can actively manage. You will see them in action in people in higher hierarchical positions.

Attribution of failure

What you believe, becomes your reality. Hence, important moments to look at are moments of failure in your (professional) life. Where do you attribute your failure to?

If you look at successful people around you, they do not go into a self-pity cave mourning about their inadequacy towards their job. They rather attribute a failure to an external factors, … and move on.

So what happens to your self-talk when you experience failure? I heard from a lot of people that they switch from ‘this was a failure’ to ‘I am a failure’. And this is when it gets dangerous. All of a sudden, a situation in the workplace affects your identity and questions who you are and what you can do. If you continue to play with those thoughts, you will not try a similar business situation again. And this is how you probably will decide not to move on in your career.

Proper reflection and learning from failure is for sure a good thing. But overthinking will stop you from moving forward. And there is no beauty nor pride in examine a messy career moment to the bone.

Stress-handling

Moving on in your career will lead to bigger ‘stress’. Stress meaning that there will never be enough time, there will always be too many tasks and there will always be pressure. This is a given.

The question is how you handle yourself in this environment. Look at successful people around you – and precisely look at those who have been for years in management positions – they have found a way to deal with this stress. Sport, hobbies and a social life apart from work are for sure components for handling stress. In addition, there is an inwardly component that you need to deal with.

Look at your self-talk if you want to improve in this area. What are you afraid of? What is the worst thing that could happen in any given stress situation? Find and face your fears. Define answers to those questions. Position yourself inwardly.

If you want to make a long-lasting and high-aiming career, you need to make sure that you can sleep well at night. And this can be trained early on in your career. In this area, coaching, journaling or techniques like NLP can help.

Comparison

Comparing yourself with others costs you energy without payback. Most likely, you will only compare yourself towards people who are better, smarter, more successful etc. than you are. And in this game, you will always loose.

I am certain that successful people seldomly compare themselves with others. They are focussing on their business. And this is how the business grows and success increases. Greed and envy are bad consultants for a happy and healthy career life.

If you are struggling in this area, dedicate an active choice towards your self-talk. Did you ever wonder what comparison, greed and envy brought you so far? Would you like to continue thinking and speaking that way? It is your choice. A tough one. But one that changes the path of your career.

Why focussing on your people will bring your business from good to great

„A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected“, is commonly quoted. In business, this principle of human behavior can bring companies, projects and teams from good to great. And as business leaders thirst for greatness, they are looking for techniques of how to trigger the apprecition-button of employees in order to get the result.

But human beings only feel appreciated when they sense it is about them as an individual. We have quite precise antennas to determine whether someone likes us as an individual or only the contribution we can bring to the P&L.

Therefore, it is true that people who feel appreciated will contribute above expectation level. But this principle cannot be turned into: I use appreciation so that I get more contribution for my project. This is called manipulation.

True appreciation requires real feelings, interaction and interest towards the people you are leading. This appreciation is not tied to an expected outcome. As a leader, this can be hard sometimes as you are investing in people and in the relationship with them without seeing immediate ‚results‘.

Results of a leadership style that incorporates real appreciation play out in the longterm, e.g. positive reputation of you as a leader among the team (hence, free in-flow of applications without long hours at recruiting events), laughter and good mood in team meetings (which has carry-over effects in client meetings that become much easier), extra-miles without complaints (that secures the next deadline without you having to work all weekend)

Even clients will realize when your team truly likes you and when collaboration is based on trust, appreciation and – when grown for a long time – friendship. This is the game changer. These moments will catapult you from ‚some consulting company‘ to ‚preferred partner‘ – as the client likes to have motivated people around who bring in a good atmosphere.

Appreciation is a root cause for those moments. But only when you invest in your people without aiming at the financial goals, you will get the results that make all the difference – even financially. It‘s a paradoxon. Think about it for a while and you will see, it is true.

How to start a consulting career in time of crisis

As the the labor market continues to stay put, the next generation of young professionals is entering the workforce looking for their first opportunity to start their careers. Instead of choosing the best offer among many, hundreds of applications are sent without getting the aspired position. In addition, this time cannot be bridged with the next travel experience or gap year abroad as most borders are closed or at least harder to cross. What a fuck!

While this is extremely frustrating, there are still options that can be done in order to increase the attractiveness of one’s profile for the consulting market. Here are some thoughts from the other side of the fence which skill sets are being searched for.

Know your MS Office toolset by heart

While this sounds extremely obvious, most young professionals stated after their first project that they had thought to know the toolsets well … and were surprised of how much more there is to learn. (And while they had rated themselves an 8 of 10, they were probably a 2 of 10.) In general, it is quite dangerous to assume that you already know everything as it leads to a place where you don’t ask questions, you don’t get better and – at worst – your project leads won’t want to work with you anymore. Therefore, make use of your gap months to dive into free online tutorials and train your skillset.

Enhance your profile by relevant tools and certificates in your aspired working area

Agile project delivery is key in the market. Get acquainted with the corresponding learning journeys, certificates and tools. A lot of information is available for free and when you can drop a few highlights in your CV and know the key facts during your interview, you are much more relevant in the workplace.

Or if process optimization seems to be of interest: find out more about methodologies and frameworks that are available at the market and that are regularly used in those type of projects.

Same is true for project management in general. The market is full of relevant material – and as you have studied in university, it is worthwhile to buy a book on project management and learn the basics.

Good presentation and moderation skills will always help you

Independent from the topic, people rather like to listen to a good presentation – just think of your bright professor who couldn’t deliver the message well. Learn how to speak your mind and to present content intriguing. This skill is essential in consulting and you will need it right from the start in your job interview. Find yourself places where you can present and moderate – maybe in university, in your student job or at the family party. Train this skill and your whole career will have a positive impact by this strength.

Stay in contact with your colleagues of your intern positions

Connect with people on business social media, drop them a line every once in a while and stay connected. Maybe you don’t even want the job they have to offer now, but you don’t know when they are changing positions and their help might come in handy. These people are also the ones that might know when their company is hiring again – and then, a good timing is essential. While your CV gets turned down in one week, the next week they might invite you as the company politics has changed. You hit these moments either by chance or by network.

Take care of your mindset and self-talk

If you belong to the people who graduate now, the past 10 years you have heard and learned that the labor market is increasing, that you can choose from any job you want and that even a very expensive university will pay off quickly. Somehow those promises did not come true. And in a way that can feel very unfair. These are moments when it is crucial that you keep track of your mindset and self-talk.

The emotions in those times have the power to bring in such a negative narrative in your life that it influences you for years. It might even get harder to walk into job interviews with positive expectations. Therefore, use these times of uncertainty as a training for your character and decide on purpose how you want to feel about it. The skills you learn through this training will be needed when you want to do a career.

How to be hated by your team easily

Delegation is key to any management role. Wrongly used, it can break trust and kill the fun at work quickly. Find out how delegation can work in your favour.

“I am looking forward to my promotion as I will be a mentor by then and I can delegate all the tasks I hate to the people assigned to me”, my conversation partner announces proudly. My faces freezes as I am thinking of all the young professionals who will get ‘the tasks he hates’. I am wondering how he has been treated in his first professional years that he actually believes that he should fill his leadership role like that.

A colleague comes to my mind who once said about his boss: “Well, now he just delegated the shit he doesn’t like to me and leaves.” In that situation, I knew the task and the boss – and I came to a total different conclusion. It was a normal delegation of a task appropriate in size and timeline towards the grade delegated to. Nonetheless, the personal story of that colleague was that he got ‘the shit’ and in turn, he was convinced that delegating the unwanted tasks down the line is part of the freedom a higher hierarchical position inherits.

But how to delegate appropriately?

For sure, delegation is a key part in business and as people develop in their leadership role, delegation is a very essential part. This is not only true for the one delegating but also for the one receiving work. As a rookie, you need leaders who assign tasks to you in order for you to grown. Let’s have a look at some hypothesis regarding good delegation:

Delegate only task you would do yourself

This topic doesn’t refer to your willingness to do it but rather the necessity of the task. It is a ‘Does it have to be done?’ consideration. Some tasks probably never will be fun, e.g. keeping track of the to do list. But they are serving a certain purpose and you would do it if no one else was there. Assumably, you have done it in the past and everyone in your area of expertise needs to do it sometime.

When delegating these tasks, bring in empathy. Explain why the task is relevant and what it contributes to. You can be honest in saying that this isn’t the coolest task of all times but make sure that you bring in appreciation for your team member.

Delegate with a learning curve in mind

From my experience, young professionals are eager to learn. They want to explore new things, understand the big picture and become experts in their jobs. As someone delegating tasks, you can make use of that eagerness by explaining how the to do is contributing to the learning curve.

Maybe taking meeting minutes is the job at hand. Even in the most boring meeting, there are learnings. Regarding the document, you could teach how good meeting minutes look like and what needs to be included. Regarding the meeting, you could highlight the roles of each attendee, the interaction between the people and how moderation techniques contribute to an aspired outcome.

It requires some creativity of you and walking the extra mile in terms of not only delegating but also creating a learning opportunity. But the results are phenomenal as people will like to work with and for you.

Delegate with a readiness to give feedback

The privilege of delegating tasks comes with the responsibility of giving feedback. Feedback is relevant for a good quality result. In addition, feedback contributes to the learning curve of the person you work with.

If you regularly shy away from giving feedback, it is a good moment to reflect. What is hindering you giving feedback? What assumptions around feedback to you believe? Are they true? Giving feedback is essential and if you don’t take that responsibility, you cause major trouble in your team – which is invisible to you most of the times.

Delegate with a heart that cares

Overall, delegation is working well when you actually care about the people you work with. Noone wants to work with you if they are used for tasks you hate. But if there is a sense of ‘care’, most people will not only work with and for you but even walk the extra mile.

Why leadership is lacking on partner level

It is obvious: the same type of people become partner in a consulting firm or enter the C-level in big companies. ‘Type’ refers mainly to behaviour and habitus, but it is very often accompanied with specific gender, age, skin colour, academic background etc.. The result of the common career paths in the western hemisphere is so homogeneous that it is obvious that there are patterns at work which are very forceful even if they are not used with intent.

Most people of that specific leadership group don’t like that thought. They are convinced that they only made the way ‘to the top’ because they have been hard working and invested a lot in their career. Some may admit that there was some luck involved at certain stages. But definitely no one feels responsible that the outcome of the career process is a homogenous group. In addition, there is not even a reason from their perspective why this should be changed, since the selection process worked in their favour. And after all, each one of that group really worked hard to achieve the current status.

Let’s pause this thought for a moment and think of a garden. If your goal is to have a lot of green in your backyard, you could plant quick-growing plants that overgrow everything. They are efficient in making your garden ‘green’ within months. But if you compare the result to a well-designed and maintained English garden, you realize that you have the same colour but the joy, relaxation and admiration that the English garden evokes, will never happen in the homogeneous ‘green hell’ that grew in your backyard.

The English garden needed intent, a plan and a lot of work. There is a gardener who decides where to put what plant, who cuts branches and loose ends and who has a long term vision for the areal. The result is a place where people gain energy, love to spend time and find joy.

If you want to turn your backyard from just being homogeneous green into a place where people enjoy being, you need a vision where to go and a plan how to get there. It will require you to cut off leaves of the current plants no matter how big they have become and how much green they bring into your garden. You need to make space for other plants and keep the space for them even if they are not growing at the same speed. You need intent in developing your garden.

I believe, career in business is very similar. Unsteered, it will result in a homogeneous mass of people who will focus on their own best interest – bottomline, it is measured in money. Once your company only has people in leadership positions who are focussing on the money, it is like your backyard that is only ‘green’ – but no one likes to be there.

Therefore, although earning money is a central part in a career for each person, it needs to be put into perspective towards a greater picture. Companies need to think about their future state and what kind of behaviour they want to grow so that people are attracted to that place. ‘You can earn a lot of money here’ won’t do the trick if bad behaviour and attitudes are killing new ways of thinking.

Each company needs a gardener (team). They need to define how the company should grow. At the same time, they are plants themselves. They are part of the game and they contribute to the beauty or ugliness of the garden. And as they are plants in the very same garden, they need to have the courage to cut their own leaves at times when it starts killing other plants. This will mean to put the ego aside, question self-beliefs and personal opinions, decide for the greater good and against the personal benefit at times and walk in a humble mindset. It requires a lot of each person in a leading position and it has an effect on personal beliefs and behaviour.

This is where leadership starts!

I am not too stupid, I am just grieving

Grief is limiting your power. As a high performer, it will be very frustrating to lose your ability to walk the extra mile. Get some ideas how to get through the grieving season – quickest.

“He doesn’t do what I tell him”, the leader complains. “It’s not a hard task… and still the result is poor.” Frustration is all over the place and the deadline is moving closer. A conversation about the situation of the employee starts – and all of a sudden a new story unravels. The team member went through a major loss lately. Emotional chaos and inner turmoil are limiting the ability to perform at best. While the leader is talking about all of those information, a new perspective on the situation evolves. The work is not yet done, but as the frustration leaves, new solution scenarios come up.

If you have gone through a major loss in life, you probably know how it feels not to be at the peak of performance. Details get lost. Deadlines seem insignificant. Colourful job tasks fade in grey.

It is a time when the focus of life shifts. And while some work is very helpful to keep a routine in life, one should not strive for high performance in order to kill the pain inside. Grief is real. Grief is painful.

Did you know that your brain cannot distinguish between the pain of a broken leg and the pain of emotional loss? Pain is processed the same. And you would not work with a broken leg one day after the surgery. Equally, you need to give yourself a bit of grace and rest when walking through grief.

For business people and high performer, this topic is important twofold:

  1. If you are a leader and your team member walks through grief, you need to know how to react.
  2. If you are a high performer walking through grief at any stage of your career, you need to know how to handle that situation.

Here are some thoughts

Tell people that you are grieving

You don’t have to say more or give details. But let your boss, colleagues and team members know, if you are walking through a tough time. “If I may seem absent at moments, it is not because I am not interested, but I am having a hard time at the moment.”

As a leader, you don’t need to help or say anything. A simple ‘I hear you’ is enough.

Go to bed early

If days are awful, make them at least short. In addition, you will need more sleep anyways as grief is taking a lot of energy. Especially if you are continue working … this is not the time for long office hours. Take your rest and you will get through this time quicker.

As a leader, be aware that rest is contributing to recovery. Take your team member out of heavy-fire-situations. Even if that person is requesting to work extra hard – coverage of pain through work is prolonging the healing and might end in burn out.

Have mercy – with yourself

Especially as a high performer, you love being productive and get stuff done. And exactly that skill is limited by grief. So you are not only grieving, but in addition, you feel like being useless.

The immediate reaction is to try to perform again – so that there is only the grief and not the feeling of uselessness. Unluckily, this approach is not successful. Your soul needs some time to let go and say goodbye. And it needs your mind and body to do that. You are one whole human being – and you cannot grief partially and work full-speed partially.

The ‘quickest’ route through grief is facing-the-giant wholeheartedly. Focus on the grief. Write, speak, weep. Whatever needs to be done. You will make it through. And once that time is over, you have your power back for high performing. Promised.

Why leading a few is harder than leading many

When people think about leadership, very often they envision a large group of people. Getting up the career ladder results in many people in their department – corresponding displayed in the income. But is this the place to learn leadership?

From a personal perspective, I learned the most of my leaders when I have been one-on-one with them or in a small group. In these moments I was able to connect to them – and sense what drives them. They shared their heart more openly and I could understand their reasoning and decisions. Yet, they were still my leaders and I was aware of the hierarchy involved.

Same is true for my teams today. In a smaller setting, no one can hide. Not even the leader. There is this ‘scary’ part in there where one is getting vulnerable. As a leader, it can feel very shaky when admitting weaknesses. It needs a lot of trust in a team to speak your mind openly. But if you manage to create that space, trust grows, people start blooming and the learning curve gets steep. These environments are the base for open honest feedback – be it wholeheartedly praise or words for growth.

Creating that team environment needs time and work. As a leader, you are responsible for the team spirit. You decide how much you share and in what tone you set out meetings. Generally, people mirror your behaviour. Give them time to build trust and see you consistent behaviour. Once they have seen you being authentic and trustworthy even under pressure, they will open up and bring in their share, too.

To give you an example: I always start my meetings in a good mood. Smiling and smalltalk is setting the tone – even in stressful seasons. Attendees learn quickly that ‘good mood’ is to be expected and soon after a series of meetings, they come in with the same smile. Once that point is reached, I don’t have to give much energy anymore, because the tone is up and everyone enjoys that style of a meeting. But it still requires consistency and effort by me to keep going and lead in the way I want to be mirrored.

How a ‚well done‘ feedback kills your career

“I only got positive feedback for my slides”, the new joiner smiles at me proudly. He just had the first project weeks with his new manager and the slide deck was the first deliverable he contributed to the project.

As much as I am happy for young professionals to get positive affirmation, I am wondering whether feedback should also include the parts what can be changed!? People contributing in projects without getting feedback that puts them on a learning journey, will stay good but won‘t get better. And as the only-positive-feedback continues, they are assuming that they were lucky this time at best – and, at worst they are learning that they don’t need to develop.

I am wondering if managers are aware of the result of their behavior!?

I understand why someone refrains from giving challeging feedback – it requires thought-through argumentation, love, wisdom, energy and a vision for the person who is being feedbacked. The easy way out is a „well done“ with no further comment. The young professional is happy. The one giving feedback doesn’t have to think. Easy. Yet, there will be no growth.

In consequence, the young professional will only grow to some degree – and that very slowly. So, although a „done well“ sounds pretty to the ear, it keeps you away from growing. And your peers, who get the challenging feedback, will outgrow you soon. They will get the promotion earlier and have the more interesting career with more challenging topics. And that only because they were trained in a harder way and did not get that easy „well done“ too often.

If you want to learn and become really good in a skill, you need to find people who feedback you openly and precise. You need to know what you can enhance and how this can be done. If you only work for people who tell you everything is fine, you are not growing. Maybe you are good enough for your current position, but how do you train for your upcoming levels?

Even worse, you don’t learn how to feedback others yourself. Truth is, giving feedback is harder than receiving feedback. You actually have to think about your opinion. If you have to tell a person that he/she needs to change, you even need to give guidance why the change is necessary and how the change could look like in order to be more successful. Giving feedback puts you at risk to not be liked, too.

Take some time to analyze where you are in all of this. Do you get enough challenging feedback to grow? Do you develop people by giving thought-provoking feedback?

Turning bad experiences into valuable lessons

We were discussing a certain consulting method, in short: creating solutions by starting out from bad client experiences. Identifying emotional hiccups is quite easy as negative emotions are stored quite well in the brain. A customer will recall those moments in more detail than a smooth process with no interferences. Once you have a negative incidence, solutions are created to change the process and reduce bad client experiences.

You can use this technique also for our life. Think for a moment: what can you remember from last week?

Most likely, all situations coming to your mind will be connected to emotions – quite often negative emotions. And this is a good entry point, to learn something new about yourself. Take some time and find out what created the bad emotion. What influenced your mood so intensively that you can recall it even today? What did you believe about yourself in that moment?

This technique is used in coaching, too. It is about creating awareness. Awareness about the underlying story that is happening while your emotions where triggered. And once you understand the underlying story, you can actively choose to stay in your mindset or change your thoughts and self-belief.

For instance, if you are triggered by words or behaviour of your colleague, your reaction says more about yourself than about your colleagues’ behaviour. It is very likely that your colleague didn’t even want to trigger you. He/she just did what they did. But it is your self-talk that is triggered, e.g. by commenting on how stupid that person is. It is very likely, that your are the one, having the need of proofing not to be stupid.

In essence, every moment you are experiencing an intense negative emotion at work, you can use the awareness that is created by that incident to learn more about yourself and grow inwardly.