Performance Under Pressure


The pressure is increasing. How to handle that pressure?


Working in a high-pressure environment can be demanding enough, but adding in the challenge of navigating one or more interview processes dials things up significantly.  We’ve certainly noticed things getting busier through the start of this year, and the market picking up obviously has a compounding effect. We’ve just had a record month. We want to do it again in March. The pressure is increasing. How to handle that pressure?

I was fortunate enough to be invited to dinner by the team at Will It Make The Boat Go Faster, a performance and training company, headed up by rowing Olympic gold medallist, Ben Hunt-Davis. At the dinner, Dr Steve Ingham, gave an insightful session on performance under pressure. His credentials? Through 5 Olympic cycles, Steve has worked with over 40 Olympic or World medallists, including Jessica Ennis at the London Olympics. If anyone knows a pressure situation, she does.

Steve told the story of working with now Dame Ennis-Hill and gave us some perspective on the extraordinary pressure she was under. Flying into Heathrow, visitors were welcomed with a picture of her sprayed across a field. Jess was the face of the games, watch this and listen to the roar at her opening event in London – it makes your spine tingle. How was she going to block out all the ambient noise around her and the Games, when the competition actually started. After all, she was there to win Gold, and she had to deliver optimal performance at the most critical moment.

He gave us insight into how he helped her clear her mind before each event. It was important that she stuck to her established routines, to break down the tasks in hand.  This would help her concentrate and not to be too aware of what was going on around her. Focusing on process would help her deliver the outcomes. Essentially, it boiled down to 3 things:

  1. Focus on what’s important
  2. Focus on performance, in order to get results
  3. Work with the team around you effectively

So in essence, simple stuff. Ideals that I’ll encourage my team here to adopt. If we can perform under pressure then we’ll be hugely effective and win as a team. Someone who knew a thing or two about pressure was Sir Alex Ferguson. He had an insatiable appetite and drive to win. He dealt with the pressure but focusing on what was important- and what was important to him, was what was coming next, not what had gone before. Moments after winning the Premier League in 2007, he was already onto the next thing. “I’m already looking forward to next season”, he said. “Let’s get on with it. I’m looking forward to going on to win a European trophy as well as pushing for the league”. In 2008 United won both the Premier League and the European Cup. They ticked, one, two and three above.

What strategies do you adopt when you’re under pressure? If you have effective ideas, please drop me a note, I’d love to hear them.

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