How to Handle Pressure


Few things erode leadership faster than ignoring pressure. Here are 5 practical guidelines to help you handle it better.

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.

5 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.

5 practical guidelines to help you handle pressure better:

1) Get your perspective right.

When you are under pressure it’s difficult to see things accurately. A friend of mine asks: “Is it arsenic?” Meaning, is this situation really life or death?

Well, that saying might not work for you, but it helps me remember that sometimes the pressure I feel, though real, is about something not as critical as my emotions make it appear. So, ask the question, “What is at stake?” Many times the answer will help you get a clearer perspective.

2) Tend to your soul.

Let God carry what you can’t carry. A verse that has meant much to me since seminary is:

“Jesus replied, ‘what is impossible with men is possible with God.’” Mark 18:27.

When you believe God for big things you are usually over your head and need His help. Yes, God helps you do everything you do, but you know what I mean, there are some “big rocks” in ministry that you just can’t lift. You and I need to trust God that He’s got it! There is a peace that covers your soul when you learn to let God carry what you can’t.

3) Know your healthy relief valve.

Here are two important questions that help you find relief when you need it.

  1. How do you play? This isn’t about everyday playfulness, that’s great all the time. I mean how do you relax? What restores you and what is it that you just love to do?
  2. Who will help you? Every leader needs a few people in the church, staff or volunteer leaders, they can count on. Friends who are full of grace and will help you when you need it most.

4) Right-size the problem.

Pressure causes you to “over-size” the problem. I find that if I write it out in a succinct format, perhaps even in bullet points it helps. For example, one pastor was panicked and said: “We need to recruit a ton of ushers!” I asked how many is a ton and he said he didn’t know the exact number. So I asked him to get the exact number of ushers he needed and come back to tell me. The next day he reported “13” and smiled, acknowledging it was very doable now that he right-sized the problem.

5) Lean into it.

There are times, God ordained times, when the pressure is high and your margin is low and God says I want you to lean into it. I’m going to grow you. This is often a composite of the previous things working together. You get your perspective right. You tend to your soul. You practice your healthy relief valve. You right size the problem . . . Then you and God take new territory.

There is nothing in this post that will make your pressure disappear. But these practical points will help you take a different approach that ultimately helps you handle your leadership pressure better.

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