No Image Available


Read more from TrainingZone

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Turning Pressure to Your Advantage


Professor Graham Jones, director of research and product development at Lane4 Management Group Ltd, explains how to cultivate high performance leadership within your organisation.

High performing leaders are the ones who can respond quickly to change, deal with ambiguity, provide direction, manage around constraints and leverage the commitment and intellectual capital of the people around them. When this capability is cultivated across an organisation it creates a performance environment that enables the organisation to adapt and sustain competitive advantage.

This article will explore building a high performance leadership. High performing leaders recognise and respond positively to the challenges and engender the same quality amongst the people they lead. Accordingly, we look at performance leadership in terms of 'leading yourself' and 'leading others'.

Leading yourself
Clients, employees, shareholders and the media are stakeholders who demand high performance from leaders. The scrutiny makes for a stressful job with high risk of burnout. Leaders must thrive on managing the pressure of their jobs. This is a defining quality that forms the foundation for high performance leadership. These are the people who make leadership look easy and possess the ability to respond to challenges in a positive way.

The absence of this is what makes leaders vulnerable to the debilitating effects of stress. When this happens individuals focus on 'fire-fighting' and coping with the hardships of their job.

As psychologists, coaches and high level athletes, Lane4 has experienced the pressures to be found in high performance environments and witnessed the inability to thrive on pressure. Our business consulting has provided us with insights into what it takes to be a high performer.

For leaders there is no hiding place – high expectations and visibility come with the job. A key part of leadership involves influencing an array of stakeholders to follow a course of action.

"High performing leaders are high performing for the simple fact that they develop resilience to vulnerability. They have the mindset that stops the downward spiral from occurring in the first place."

In doing this, leaders have to provide both rational and emotive arguments to gain their commitment. In reaction to conflict, leaders also have to draw on the authority of their position and tell people what to do.

How leaders respond to the visibility and exposure they encounter is a marker of the consequent vulnerability and stress they may endure. Prolonged feelings of vulnerability can lead to a vicious downward spiral whereby leaders distance themselves from their teams. The resultant breakdowns in communication, teamwork and business performance become the symptoms which consultants are then asked to act on.

High performing leaders are high performing for the simple fact that they develop resilience to vulnerability. They have the mindset that stops the downward spiral from occurring in the first place. Successful leaders face up to the pressure they encounter, extract meaning and learn important lessons to move on to new levels of achievement. This develops 'mental toughness'.

This term refers to the psychological edge that enables people to remain focused and in control when faced with high performance environments.

Mental toughness is pivotal to personal leadership. It is a multi-faceted concept and each leader has a unique blend of development needs. In our consulting work with business leaders, we have found one-to-one coaching to be a particularly beneficial medium for delivering support.

That said, mental toughness is an attribute that performers at all levels in an organisation can benefit from. It can form an integral part of HR talent development initiatives as well as more general interventions aimed at raising the capability of an organisation.

Leading others
Leaders achieve results through people. Gifted leaders are people who can inspire and influence others.

Leadership is 5 per cent of a high performing unit and 95 per cent of a poor one. This point is underscored by the fact that major causes of employee stress at work are unfulfilling manager-staff. When leaders capture the commitment of the team they unleash the intellectual capital people have to offer.

So what are the appropriate qualities associated with leading others? Leading others requires a high degree of people awareness and a focus on supporting people in achieving high performance through the development of their mental toughness.

The importance of vision
Notably leadership forms the base of the model, emphasising its importance in forming a foundation for high performance. Vision is a central element of leadership, the link between strategy and people - it is how leaders are able to engage people’s motivation and provide purpose and cohesion.

A leader’s challenge behaviours are translating this into high performance. Challenge is about moving people out of their comfort zone to test and develop their capabilities. Through challenge leaders communicate excellence, set goals, and foster adaptability. To ensure that performance is sustainable longer term, a leader’s challenge behaviours need to be complemented by support behaviours.

"Challenge is about moving people out of their comfort zone to test and develop their capabilities. Through challenge leaders communicate excellence, set goals, and foster adaptability."

Together vision, support and challenge form the basis of people and team leadership – no element can be removed without effectiveness being compromised. The most common scenario of imbalance is strong vision and challenge but weak support.

Leaders who exclusively focus on challenge behaviours are often described as 'micro-managers'. Leaders gain compliance at the cost of high stress levels. When balanced, vision, support and challenge behaviours can result in sustained performance gains.

In concert, these behaviours can unleash the performance potential of people by providing them with a safe working environment in which they are able to perform yet cope with the uncertainty associated with modern business.

Cultivating leadership at all levels
It’s a reflection of the fact that ambitious organisations with a desire for success are stressful places. In the continual search for competitive advantage, standing still is not an option – an organisation’s desire for success has to be complemented with a focus on responsiveness. Against this context, high-level performance and stress are inseparable.

Developing a performance leadership capability across all levels is what enables organisations to effectively adapt - errors become opportunities and limitations stimulate creativity. For many organisations, bureaucracy and politics can make adaptability painful.

'Prevention is better than cure' is the mantra of stress management. For modern organisations this is a mythical sentiment. Negative and unnecessary stressors have no place on the agenda; however, achieving high performance inevitably implies dealing with high levels of demand and delivering performance in the face of the obstacles.

Converting pressure into advantage rests on developing a high performance leadership ethos from personal to organisational levels. Transforming pressure into competitive advantage is the ultimate hallmark of a high performance organisation.

Lane4 is a performance development consultancy founded by Olympic gold medal winner Adrian Moorhouse, Professor Graham Jones and Adrian Hutchinson. It works with board level individuals and teams from blue chip organisations such as Coca-Cola Enterprises, Safeway Stores plc, Deutsche Bank, and Woolworths Group plc.


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!