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Why Leaders Should Run Toward Pressure, Not From Pressure


The first episode of the new Netflix documentary series, The Playbook, features basketball coach Doc Rivers. Coach Rivers led the Boston Celtics to a championship in 2008. Coaching one of the most storied franchise brought an immense amount of pressure to Rivers and the whole team. Instead of minimizing the pressure, Rivers put a spotlight on the pressure. An actual spotlight. He had a spotlight set up shining on an empty place in the rafters where the banner would be placed if they won the NBA finals. About pressure, Rivers says: “I don’t think you should run from a legacy, or run from pressure, or run from expectations. I think you should run towards it.”

When it comes to growing in your craft or developing as a leader, pressure is something you should run towards not from.

In their book The Power of Moments Chip and Dan Heath offer similar encouragement based on their research and interviews with psychologists. They articulate that by placing yourself in a situation where you feel pressure you are placing yourself in a position for either development and growth or self-discovery and refocus. If you take on additional pressure you will either (a) develop new skills and thrive or (b) discover that you do not want or are not made for this particular path. Either scenario is a win. If the pressure develops you, you become more skilled in that particular craft or discipline. If the pressure causes you to “tap out,” you then get to refocus your life on something else you are more passionate about.

The pressure will develop you.

Recently I was leading a session with some of our younger leaders on our team, and one of them asked what has been the biggest source of my development. I answered “seasons of being overwhelmed” and offered a few examples. When you are overwhelmed, you are forced to learn new skills that you will not learn until you have to learn them. From my perspective as a follower of Jesus, I also know this to be true. When you are overwhelmed, you are driven to a greater dependence on Jesus and an opportunity to see Him do amazing things as He is attracted to our weakness and loves when we are in a posture of humble reliance on Him.

Or the pressure will refocus you.

There are times where a leader takes on a new responsibility or an additional discipline, and the pressure does not develop the leader. Instead the pressure causes the leader to realize, “I am not that passionate about this” or “I am not particularly gifted for this.” This is NOT a failure. This is great! Because now the leader can focus with more confidence on what he or she is most passionate about or gifted for.

The pressure is a win either way.

What is not a win is just existing and meandering and doing what you have always done because that is what you have always done. Sadly, that is what many people do. They miss out on being developed or on focusing with greater clarity on what they are most passionate about. The leaders who run towards pressure and not from pressure are the leaders who will enjoy development or refocus.

This article originally appeared here.