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.

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!

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?

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.

Bitter or better?

When being disappointed you always have the choice to get bitter or better. All of the shit in your (job) life can either make you a better version of yourself or turn you in a bitter moron who doesn’t understand why people hate being around him/her.

I invested in this project. Walked the extra mile. Took the night shifts. And in the end? I did not receive what I expected. It feels unfair. I am tired. And I am standing here with nothing in my hands. Why am I doing this?

Everyone knows those moments. High input, low output. Incredible frustration. And the upcoming question: why continue? how to walk on?

Once you have decided you want to continue the path you are walking, e.g. stay in your job, in the relationship or social service, it is worth to check on your emotions. Moments of disappointment contain a high risk of getting bitter. And once your heart becomes bitter, you will see more cynic thoughts and words, lose real joy in what you do and start distrusting people and your gut feeling. All of these effects have the power to manipulate you and turn your environment into a toxic culture.

In order not to end up there, start a habit on checking on your feelings – especially when walking through tough times. How do you feel about the situation that went bad? Angry? Weary? Betrayed? Give it a name, point it out and understand what triggered you in this moment. To write a few words with pen on paper can be a real relief. Once you see your emotions in front of you, decide what you want to do with them. Do you want to keep it? Can you forgive? Do you want to stay in the inner fight?

Facing your inner fears, thoughts and assumptions about life is tough. Maybe you will need to adjust your mindset. Maybe you will need to change your position in life. But it is worth keeping your heart in check, so that you can face the next challenge with a new view without having a clouded vision by anger, distrust or anxiety.

All of this is especially true if you are working with people. Working with people is tough. It gives you opportunities to get disappointed on a regular basis. Therefore, if you are responsible for people development or you are planning in doing a career in a leadership position, you will need to check on your heart on a regular basis if you want to stay open-hearted – and essentially get better in every tough moment.

Getting bitter is the easy way. Getting better requires real work. What do you choose?

Side note: Coaching can help you, to address those inner issues and remove stumbling blocks that are torpedating your career.

Your list of „Why not“ kills your career

How do you like people telling you first thing why your ideas and plans won‘t work?

While a reality check is quite healthy from time to time, way too often people rather think of „why not“ instead of „how“. I see this daily with my clients and some of my colleagues. Instead of being the driver of change, they know all the reasons and risks why an idea will fail.

But guess what … you are not being paid for listing all the „why not possible“ points. Your boss employed you to solve problems. And that is basically why your clients pay your company, too. You solve a problem for them, they cannot solve on their own.

Whether you are providing a service or a product – at core, you are adding value to your clients lives. And if you don’t add value, you are – quite frankly – useless.

If you are self-employed, you see the effects in your sales numbers immediatly. The bigger the organization you are working for, the effect of your problem-focussed mindset will be less obvious. Maybe you wonder why you don‘t get the promotion you are longing for. Maybe you are not asked to work on the interesting assigntments.

Check on your words for a while. What are you talking about when asked? Are you the one that knows all the „why not“ or can you improve ideas by adding potential „how to“?

Challenge yourself a bit and start thinking in new ways. If you are very trained in thinking and speaking „why not“ this will feel wired – maybe even unrealistic. But keep in mind: unless you are not precisely asked what the risks of an option are, you will be perceived as a stumbling block to the idea and people will take you out of scope.

Instead, if you can add value by bringing up some ideas how things can work, you stay in the conversation. And when the reality check is due, you can add all the relevant risks that you see.

You see, it is not about leaving all „why not“ out of consideration. But it is about timing. New ideas need some space to evolve. The reality check comes in later.

I am in the wrong job

Once you realize you are not happy in your current position, get real and find out what you really want.

The emotion can hit you hard: I. am. in. the. wrong. job.

Independently of how long you are working in you profession, the overwhelming desire of getting a change can sweep you off your feet. Especially after a longer break over christmas and the first few days back in the job, you feel problematic areas even stronger. Back in the holidays you were at peace, but in your work environment you are being confronted with all this negative emotion.

Feeling this inner turmoil, it’s very easy to attribute all the worst reasons to your environment, colleagues, clients and tasks. Finding external factors for your misery is the easiest way. Truth is that these intense emotions are a good moment to get to know yourself a lot better.

  • Why exactly are you feeling the way you feel?
  • What are your expectations towards yourself, your job and the people around you?

While you benefit from getting to know yourself a lot better [thanks, dear turmoil times in life!], you still need to find some sort of solution for your issue with the working environment. Let’s explore the options.

Change it!

The first question arising is: What can be changed? Where is your influence? What is in your hands?

You can change yourself and you can change the situation but you absolutely cannot change other people. Only they can do that.

Joanna Trollope

The writer Joanna Trollope puts it quite well. You need to accept that you cannot change the people around you. You might change yourself – meaning your attitude, expectations, perspective. And you can also change the situation, e.g. not attending a certain meeting, change your seating or regroup your team members. But other people’s behaviour and attitude – including your boss, colleagues, clients – is out of your hand.

Take a moment of analyzing your status quo. What can be changed about the situation? What can be changed in your attitude?

If you are sensing that a lot of your ‘problems’ lay in the behaviour of other people, you might need to check the next paragraphs for a solution.

Love it!

Sometimes a broader view and a different angle of the perspective works miracles. Maybe you don’t really like all aspects of your daily tasks – but you only have a 10 minute drive to work. Or you feel overwhelmed by a lot of responsibility, yet the potential freedom in structuring your time during the day is unique to your position.

When feeling unhappy about a certain aspect in your work life, there is the risk of focussing too much on this particular thing – increasing the problem even further. At the end you only see the negative.

Take some time to write down all the positive aspects of your job. Actively refocus and check areas you haven’t considered yet: location, travel time needed, freedom of selecting tasks or allocating time, payment, tasks, additional benefits of your employer like canteen, sports or health support. Make sure that your brain doesn’t play a trick on you by only focussing on one negative thing that becomes the center of your universe.

Aside from taking a broader view also think of the people around you. Generally spoken, everyone tries to do the ‘best’ in life. So while your colleague or boss might annoy you, keep in mind that they are also just acting based on their perception of what is ‘the best thing to do’. Even if you consider their behavior as ‘stupid’, other people might classify of your actions ‘unreasonable’.

While thinking about all aspects of your status quo, you might already get a different attitude. Are you able to love certain flaws and downsides of your current job – including colleagues – when considering the whole package?

If not, maybe the last option is for you.

Leave it!

Sometimes the feeling of not belonging to a certain place is a good wake up call to leave a job or position. But leaving includes a risk: Why are you sure not running into the same problems in your next job?

If you leave only to avoid certain problems, chances are high that you will end up in exactly the same problems – only with different people. This is why the first two paragraphs are so important to you – or even more important when you consider leaving over staying.

Ideally, you know yourself and the environment you need to thrive. Then you can start searching for that spot in the working market. Rather be ‘drawn to’ a new opportunity, than ‘running away’ from your status quo. With all respect, be aware: if you choose based on wrong motives, you might even end up worse than your current state.

I. am. in. the. wrong. job.

If that’s your feeling right now, use the momentum to explore your status quo. Where is this emotion rooted? What actually needs to change? What do you want in your work life?

Stop complaining and get real.

Get ahead between years by reflection – a practical guide

As the year is coming to an end it is a good opportunity to take some time to reflect. In this article you will find inspiration on how to use your reflection time well.

Before starting to reflect set aside some undistracted time. Spend this time with a long walk or in a peaceful place in the house or your favourite cafè. Helpful can be to take a piece of paper and a pen. If you choose walking, make sure that you have a time afterwards to take notes of your thoughts.

Very often when we want to get into moments of reflection, our mind is still spinning. Thousand thoughts of to dos are coming up. In order to calm that storm in your head write all important to dos on a piece of paper – in order to solve it later. Tell your brain that it has been taken care of and it won’t be forgotten. But for now, you want to concentrate on the reflection. Start inhaling and exhaling slowly. Use your full lung capacity to fill yourself with fresh air – and let go of all worries while exhaling.

Depending on how experienced you are with reflection times, this process of letting go of unnecessary thoughts can take a while. Walk through it. The results coming from a good reflection session are amazing.

When you are ready, walk through the questions of the three sections. At best, you already take notes while you are thinking. It reduces your thought speed leading to deeper understanding and new insights. For sure you can also just think about them without writing. You don’t need to take all questions. Rather take one and really think and reflect.

The Past

  • What happened the last year?
  • What were your highlights?
  • What/Whom did you lose?
  • What/whom did you win?
  • What memory do you want to keep?
  • What are you thankful for?
  • What will you leave in the past?

The Present

  • How are you feeling?
  • Is anything hurting?
  • Whom in your environment do you love?
  • Are you happy?

The Future

  • How do you want to be feeling?
  • What are the problems you want to solve?
  • Who do you want to have with you?
  • What are your life goals?
  • What makes you happy and satisfied?

Usually you will gain clarity during the answering of these questions. If you hit any topic that cannot be ‘solved’ by this one reflection, write down all questions and feelings that are running through your mind. Sometimes topics get started by a reflection but need more time to be cleared. Don’t push the topic away. Rather hold it in your mind and wait for clarity to come. Some stuff needs time.

If you want to intensify this reflection, take a coach. With a coach you will start with one of those questions and then go deeper. A good coach will stretch you by asking thought-provoking questions and providing observations. You will get new insights and gain clarity on what to do next.

My life is f***ed

When bad luck is piling up, it is easy to get lost in despair. Losing sight of the blessings in your life, will leave you empty and defeated. Get inspired how to handle those moments.

Emptiness. Thoughts are running and yet there is no precise idea. Every inch of my body is hurting. I have fought. Argumented. Given my best. And yet: didn’t win. And then again, it doesn’t really feel like ‘not winning’ but rather losing. Losing 100%. While my mind is still spinning, this feeling of failure is creeping in. The emotional journey is hitting fast forward button and all of a sudden I am convinced that I am a failure. The failure in person.

From a lot of talks I know that this vicious cycle is quite common to many people. It is invisible. It starts slowly. It intensifies when energy level is low. And then it drags all emotions down and sucks up all energy, hope and vision of a person.

It can hit you in your educational journey, family life or business endeavour. It can hit you for a few minutes or follow you over weeks. It can affect your smile only for a day or your whole life for a season.

So, what can be done when sensing that emptiness or when you are in these moments of despair?

Very often the emptiness starts due to one or two moments that didn’t go well – e.g. an argument with someone or a hope didn’t materialize. Because a strong emotion is connected to these moments, our brain tends to focus on these occasions much longer than on others. This in turn leads to increase of the bad emotion and the start of the vicious cycle.

In order to escape this cycle – at any stage – you need some strategies. Here are some proven ones.

When certain parts of your life are in turmoil it is helpful to actively focus on other areas of your life. Your life doesn’t consist of that one educational path or that one relationship or the one deal you didn’t win – although your brain is telling you that this is THE ONLY PROBLEM.

Write

Take action and write down everything you can be thankful for. Especially in the area you feel defeated. Yes, the one relationship didn’t have an awesome moment – but what about all other relationships!? Yes, the one teacher gave you unfair feedback – but what about all other teachers!?

Start reminding yourself that you are more than your feeling of emptiness. You are more than failing in a moment.

While writing you will feel stress leaving and calmness settling in. Your brain is forced to think proper sentences and put your thoughts in order. That’s why journaling is such a great tool when your emotions are spinning.

Move & Create

Once you are calm, it’s time to check what you need in order to recharge. Most likely, movement should be involved, independent of how you are feeling. Maybe you meet some friends and just relax with them (but don’t start the vicious cycle again by complaining about your problem). Or you get some creativity started by writing, cooking, baking, drawing … creating something. Creating requires concentration and new thoughts – shifting your focus actively.

Think & Decide

Once you are recharged you can go back to the moment of despair and check if you need to change something in your life. Maybe you really need to change your path. Or maybe you just need to learn how to deal with the situations you are in because these moments won’t change even if you change your studies / relationship / job.