Are you a Swan Leader?

We have all been there – The deadline approaches, the pressure mounts, last minute requests from the client leads to a sense of near panic amongst the team.

Will they make the deadline with the quality required to please everyone?

Like a nuclear reactor near critical mass, and when it feels as if we’re stuck in the eye of a storm, the team turn their attention to their leader in the room. How are they reacting? Calm, flushed, stress, agitated? Or simply running out the door in shear panic? When the reputation of the company and the team are on the line and the risk of failing a deadline is looming, the attitude of the leader can be a game changer and influence the team’s likelihood of a success or failed experience.

Having worked in a deadline driven industry for decades, from humble beginnings of being a young trainee Quantity Surveyor, through to a Director of a multi-national and to battling the challenges and unknowns of managing my own start-up, I’ve truly felt and experienced the effect and power of what a level headed leader can bring to a team’s performance.

Leaders come in all shapes and forms and work in many different ways with differing results of success. Some go on to become game changing mentors, or as Max Walker, the cricket legend recently defined at Melbourne’s TEDx conference, they become our “Character Angels”. Others are soon forgotten for the blustery ways they scream under pressure or only remembered with a shudder for behaviours similar to an unstable pressure cooker ready to blow at any given time.

The key to true leadership is consistency.

Your team need to trust, feel and believe you can handle the ups and downs, highs and lows of being a leader. There is security in a team who knows that when the shit hits the fan their leader is there with support and direction in the same calm consistent manner as when the pressure is off. Every single time.

Leadership at this level is about controlling the emotions, thinking clearly and delivering what’s needed under extreme circumstances. Similar to how a sportsman performs under pressure when they have that crucial match point or winning putt in front of them. Dane Barclay, Sports Psychologist and one of my mentors, once told me “A good sportsman performs well when they feel good. A great sportsman performs well no matter how they feel!!”

It’s the same in business – A great leader will perform no matter what.

Frequently we hear how professional golfers and tennis players react on that vital putt/ match point. Reminiscing afterwards how they were shaking uncontrollably with their heart pounding through their chest and having to use all their strength to concentrate and breathe to quieten the mind and body to get the performance they so greatly desired. We all experience the effects of dealing with pressure, the difference is how we deal with it.

I believe a great leader resembles a swimming swan. On the surface the swan glides majestically and calmly across the water creating nothing but gentle ripples in its wake, while underneath it’s paddling like buggery with its legs to keep the smooth motion going.

That’s how great leaders act – call them “Swan Leaders” if you like.

Always cool and calm on the surface but working furiously underneath to ensure that direction, drive and decision making continues – with consistency, no matter the challenge ahead.

So the next time you are in a stressful situation with your team looking for guidance, be the Swan Leader – level headed in your approach, appearing calm and controlled on the surface while paddling like an unstoppable kick arse force of nature!

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