Pressure and Leadership

The Navy seals are known as a tough, disciplined group of people. They are the best of the best. They have been credited with many famous sayings and operating principles through the years, and one of my favorite quotes comes from them. That quote is:

“Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. That’s why we train so hard.” – Navy Seals

Although I love this quote, one addition makes it better. You do sink to the level of your training under pressure, but you also sink (or rise) to the level of your leadership. The leader is responsible for directing the training and making sure the group is prepared to handle the pressure. Good performance under pressure does not happen by accident. To handle pressure well, you have to prepare well. That preparation is the responsibility of the leader.

The leader responsible to prepare a person or group for pressure can take many forms. They can be a boss, a parent, or a coach. The specific role does not matter. What matters is that the person in charge understands their duty and operates accordingly. They view their role as a leader as an honor, and they treat it that way every day. They do not take for granted what so many only get to dream of.

Anyone fortunate enough to lead people understands it is a great honor, but they also know leadership comes with great responsibility. The task does not come lightly, and nor should it. Your job is to prepare people for pressure and to perform well in the heat of battle. That pressure and battle can be the game on Saturday night, the important Monday morning meeting at the office, or raising your children. You either prepare to handle pressure well, or you choose to show up unprepared. When you show up unprepared, you are guaranteed to fail.

In order for a leader to prepare others for the pressure, they must first prepare themself. If you have not spent time studying and preparing, you have no right to attempt to prepare others. You cannot be a leader without doing the work that leadership requires. This includes researching, observing, asking questions, and learning from your mistakes over many years. Leaders work at their craft every day, and true leaders understand they have to be well-educated and experienced if they hope to lead others well. Without this preparation, you have no right to lead.

The challenging responsibility of leadership comes with a great reward. To be known as a good leader is highly respected, and it is something to take pride in. But that’s not why you lead. You don’t lead for recognition or validation. You do it because that’s what you are supposed to do. It’s what you have to do. You have to do it if you care about people, and if you care about a better tomorrow. Because that’s what leaders do. They lead and prepare in the moment for a better tomorrow, and they inspire others to think and prepare the same way.

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