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.

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?

You can change the world today

Here is a true story from the 70s. We are in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge are in charge and rule the country brutally. Within 4 years up to two million people die. In those years, a baby is found by a swiss lady working for the red cross. The baby lays abandoned near the road to die. The forces of the Khmer Rouge are close and the lady decides quickly: she rescures the little baby girl, takes her to Switzerland and finds parents for adoption.

Roughly 35 years later, that former baby girl is now a highly educated, healthy woman – with a family of her own. She and her husband visit her roots – being in Cambodia for the first time. They fall in love with the country and the people. They decide to move to Cambodia and start an NGO that helps hundreds of kids and teens every week to get education, food and a vision for their life. Hundreds are blessed today, because one lady back in the 70s takes an abandoned baby girl from the street – without fearing the consequences.

I have heard the story many times. I have been to the NGO in Cambodia. And still, I am in awe every time I think of that storylining again. That one woman fleeing the Khmer Rouge changes a whole generation of Cambodian people today who live in that area.

It leads to the question: Are you aware that the decisions you take today can influence many people in the future?

What if the young professional you are training today, becomes the next head of a big department? What did that person learn from you and most likely will use in his/her leadership style?

What if you could speak potential and positivity in your team mates instead of bringing your emotional ‘bad-hair-day’ to work? You have a position today – no matter how insignificant you might feel. And it is up to you how you fill your work day and interaction with clients and colleagues.

Let’s think of this for a moment: Everytime you consider the long term perspective, a lot of the current hustle becomes irrelevant. The emotionally nagging moments get flattened when you think of what good can come out of it.

You lost an important client? – That’s bad. But how do you react? And who is watching? What kind of an example are you?

You could pick a fight with a colleague – or you surrender and ‘loose’ this one argument for winning a favour in the future?

You have an impact on your team mates everyday. You choose what kind of an example you want to be.

Wanna keep your job?

Interestingly, there are some people who will always tell you how much they have to do, how stressful their job is and when coming to complaining about colleagues and bosses the day doesn’t have enough hours to contain their words. It seems, their whole life is awful and punished by the few people around them. Often I am wondering, whether they are aware that one part of their misery is the constant echo of their stressful workday in their private lives!?

But aside from crashing the atmosphere at home, most likely their job isn’t that bad after all – at least they haven’t changed positions or applied for a new role. Most likely, a huge part of their complain is letting everyone know how important and unexchangeable they are in their position. Which opens room for a change of perspective: how does their boss and colleagues see that person? Does he/she contribute to the team success? What is the effect of the complain of that person towards the team mates?

Even the brightest mind and the deepest content of a colleague is overruled by a bad attitude. Someone complaining much – regardless the topic – stresses the team more than the actual work will contribute. People will see and learn from that behaviour – managing around colleagues whose attitude is counterproductive. In turn, when it comes to team size reduction – these people won’t have anyone speaking up for their important contribution to the team success despite their story of having so much stress and hence, being so important.

So, if you want to be part of the crew kept on board, think of this: your teammates and leads need you to do your job. They need you to take responsibility for your tasks so that they can trust you and your results. Very often you can decide what ‘your job’ involves. One major part is fixing problems. Often these problems won’t be part of your initial job description. But if you are known for a mindset that thinks of solutions instead of complain, your teammates and leads will love to work with you and will do anything, to keep you in the team.

Why does my boss earn so much money?

“Whether my boss is there or not – it doesn’t make any difference”, I recently heard someone say. It displays the missing transparency of what is a boss’ job. One thing that is quickly mentioned in this discussion, is the high salary that one gets for being in a management position. And most likely, the person mentioning the money, is the one trying to reach a management position, too.

Unluckily, this perception of a boss not doing anything useful to the companies cause, leads to many new managers following that same approach – not realizing of how mistaken they are.

So, if you want to become a successful person in a managing role in your company, think of the following ‘to dos’ and check whether you are willing to do them. For sure, you will find people in your organisation that are in management positions not doing the named points. But you can decide for yourself, what kind of leader you want to become.

Take decisions

One essential part of a management position is the responsibility of taking decision. People will come to you with options, but it will be your responsibility of choosing on how to proceed. You can probably recall several ocasions in which the respective leader did not take a decision – and how harmful the result was.

Taking decisions makes you vulnerable in a way. People will know where you stand and what opinion you have. This is why many leaders refrain from taking a decision. Often this comes in shades of procastination or delegation of the decision to a gremium or lower rank.

But lets be clear: part of the salary of a management role is the responsibility for taking decisions – even the controverse and hard ones.

Give feedback

As long as all your team members are working fine, reaching their goals and have no conflicts, feedback sessions are easy. Giving praise and appreciation is the fun part of feedback. But if destructive behaviour of single people are destroying the atmosphere or weak results are torpedating the company results, it becomes tough.

Addressing destructive behaviour can result in conflict – and conflict needs energy, time and clear guidance. And this is for sure part of the management role and salary. Yet, a lot of managers refrain from walking into this métier. They neither want to spend the time nor their energy in confronting people with feedback. They are rather hoping that the problem somehow goes away.

Unluckily, un-feedbacked bad behaviour will expand and eventually kill the atmosphere; resulting in low cooperation, less delivery quality and in the end high attrition.

What helps is ‘radical candor’ as Kim Scott names it (see her book ‘Radical Candor’). Radical Candor means being totally clear about the content while having the heart of developing the person who gets feedback. No sugar coating. But also no condemnation. Setting clear boundaries and rules for the team and giving freedom for everyone to develop. It’s hard, as it requires a lot of self-reflection of the leader. But it is part of the management role.

Think ahead

Ideally, leaders don’t only focus on the present but have an idea of where they want to be in 5 or 10 years from now. They are not consumed by all problems at hand but have the capacity of thinking several steps ahead. They can anticipate what impact their decision might have.

This ability as well as the time of getting to a well-thought-through decision is part of the their job. As hence, is displayed in their salary.

If you like to have a boss with the named qualities, take action and become that boss yourself.

Air time: how to get more time from your boss

“My boss hardly talks to me.” “I don’t get any air time.” “It’s almost impossible to get an appointment with my boss.” – these complaints can be heard quite often. The consequences are obvious: little interaction leads to little growth in the relationship and, in consequence, the promotion goes to a colleague – that surprisingly got more time of interaction with the boss.

So what can you do in order to get more time with your boss – and especially one-on-one time in which you can proof your abilities and let him/her see of what you are capable of.

Let’s change perspectives for that matter. Why should your boss talk to you?

Think about this question. If you feel it’s his/her f*** job to listen to you – you might be right, but that doesn’t get you what you want. So again: What is it that your boss hears/sees/experiences when she/he is talking to you?

From what I have experienced in and heard of many of those talks, it goes as follows: a lot of complain… then some mediocre chit-chat… and quite often a demand for more responsibility, a new role or even the promotion. The first will be overheard by your boss because there is too much negativity in life anyways. The second is irrelevant for him/her – and by the time you start demanding something, the mind of your boss spins about ending this talk soon. Therefore, let me ask you – and please be honest: What is in this talk for your boss?

Your boss is a human being as well. He/she is working under constant pressure, too. And when you are one of the many interactions that intensifies the daily pressure… it is only human nature when he/she avoids talking to you.

If you could be one of the positive interactions for your boss during that day – she/he will love to talk to you in the future. If he/she can trust, that there will be fun and laughter involved when talking to you: be assured that they are looking forward to talking to you.

But bringing in a positive atmosphere is only a one part. Even more important is: be relevant! Ideally you belong to the solution of your boss’s problem. If you are the go-to-person for problem-solving, your boss will know your capabilities and worth.

Let’s talk about examples: If your boss knows that team building is important but neither have the time nor the creativity to do anything, be the person organizing the team event. Ask her/him what should be on the agenda, bring in ideas and make sure that he/she looks good when opening the event. For sure, be mindful not to become the event planner forever, but use the event to proof your skill set in project management. In addition, use the time bonding with your boss and let him/her feel important.

This type of working with your boss can be done in any change situation in your team or company. Classically, people will resist change – and your boss needs to implement the changed processes and procedures. If you act as a change agent, you can solve some of your boss’s problems without much effort and get the recognition you are thriving for.

Once you are known to your boss, become relevant for a certain topic or skill. Be the one, your boss asks when it is about… tax, regulatory questions, IT functions in your new system – you name it. Either you are already an expert – so leverage on your existing knowledge. Or you are an expert in the making – then find relevant topics around you, get skilled and support your boss.

Most likely, inwardly you sense some unrighteousness: your boss should be the one taking time for you. People development is part of the job description (and salary) of most leading positions in business – therefore, it feels fair if more effort is done on the leadership side. Yet, reality is that most bosses neither take the time nor have the awareness what they could do differently. And that shouldn’t stop you in working with your boss in a way that builds the relationship in a positive way.