Have you ever looked at someone in charge of a team working under pressure and wondered, how can he or she be that confident? How can they remain so calm when all they seem to be getting right now is bad news? How do they know which decision is the right one? They seem to – after all they give clear instructions, smile, and move on to the next problem without ever looking back.
Or do they?
As someone who makes a career out of leading teams, I can tell you that most displays of confidence under pressure are the product of high school drama classes. Every one of us suffers from moments of self-doubt, usually found gnawing away at the deepest part of the stomach. Every one of us actually develops eyes in the back of our heads to allow us to look back as we move to the next problem; that’s how the stomach knows when to act up.
A few weeks back I was talking with a friend of mine who worked with me at sea during a huge international navy exercise off of Hawaii. He and another officer had just joined our ship, fresh from a year-long course designed to make them into warfare leaders, known as Operations Room Officers or OROs. Being an ORO can be a tough job – you are responsible to the skipper for almost everything and have to coordinate a huge network of sub-teams and equipment. On top of this, add being responsible for aircraft and other warships assigned to you for the current activity and now, as they say, we are in business. My point? Many people look to the ORO for guidance and direction. He or she is expected to wade through mountains of information to seize clarity in order to provide sane instructions to everyone else. In other words – a busy job with periods of impossible requirements. The key to success? Confidence and experience. And if you have just arrived and don’t have much experience? That leaves confidence… In fact, my shipmates had the same conversation at watch turnover for almost two weeks – “Figured out this job yet?” Pause. “Nope.”
The take away? It’s OK to be human and feel like you’ve left your safe zone because leading under pressure is uncomfortable. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying or doesn’t understand the question.