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How to Handle Pressure

As a leader, pressure is no stranger to you. There is no way to avoid pressure, except to quit leading.

• If you are successful, you experience pressure.

• If you fail, you experience pressure.

• If you coast, you experience pressure.

How about you? What kind of pressure are you facing? Financial? Not making budget? Are you in conflict with a key staff member? Is your board divided? Are there political issues? Perhaps it’s something more personal at home—struggles with your family. There is no end to the list of possibilities, and these things are no stranger to those of us who lead.

Leaders tap out when the pressure gets too high. Every leader has a point where the pressure is too much. How you handle those moments can make or break you as a leader.

Five ineffective ways to handle pressure:

1) Send it.

Some leaders treat pressure like a hot potato. They toss it to someone else as fast as they can. Most typically, they attempt to send it up to their boss to handle, or send it down to a subordinate to deal with it. It’s fine to ask your boss for help and delegation is usually a good practice, but that’s not what happens here. This is an attempt to get rid of it, which is not a good leadership practice.

2) Postpone it.

Procrastination never makes the pressure go away. In fact, any attempt to delay the pressure often makes it worse. Pressure can be like credit card debt, the longer you put off paying down the principle, the worse the debt gets.

3) Ignore it.

It is surprising how often church leaders pretend like there is no problem, there is no pressure and there’s nothing to resolve. They can deliver a Sunday morning message seemingly oblivious to what is happening around them. Few things erode leadership faster than this.

4) Worry about it.

No matter how much I’ve worried about something, it never helped to lessen the pressure or improve the situation, and it just further depleted me of productive energy to lead. Worry never helps. This is one of the greatest temptations of a leader, and must be avoided as much as humanly possible.

5) Cave in to it.

Sometimes the pressure gets so high, and is sustained so long, that you may be tempted to alter your behavior to find relief. It happens. Leaders lower standards, ignore values, crash relationships and more, all because of pressure. Remember what happened with Aaron when Moses was gone so long (Exodus 32)? Under all the pressure, Aaron cracked, he caved in, took the gold and actually participated in sin by making the golden calf. I’m certain that he justified it to the point where his decisions made sense.

Which of the above are you most tempted to do? A great first step to conquering it is identifying it. Then you can begin to intentionally resist it.

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Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He and Dr. Maxwell still enjoy partnering on a number of church related projects together.