Saturday, March 26, 2022
This week, I read an article about the upcoming Axiom-1 mission to the International Space Station scheduled for early next month. The piece featured renowned chef, José Andrés, who is providing a meal for the crew of Axiom-1 and the NASA, Russian, and European astronauts aboard the ISS. Cooking a gourmet meal for consumption in low-Earth orbit is quite a lot different than preparing small plates for diners in places like South Beach, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York. Ultimately, Andrés and his team solved the issue by applying pressure. By utilizing high-pressure cooking methods, he was able to solve for the atmospheric and other challenges to produce a winning outcome – a chicken and mushroom paella he was proud to put his name on.
As I considered the situation for a bit, it occurred to me that life and leadership are typically like Chef Andrés’ paella dilemma. Not much happens without pressure.
And that’s the point for the week.
The best leaders understand that the level of output in any organization is almost always directly proportional to the amount of pressure applied to it; subject, of course, to the law of diminishing returns.
I recently saw a piece about a leader advocating for dead calm in the workplace. She posited that the path to prosperity could be found in a magical state of zero stress, zero pressure and zero heat or weight. In these heaven-like places, workers could be free to work when they want, how they want and at their own pace, to deliver results for the organizations that employ them. The only problem with such utopias is that they don’t exist – except in magazine stories. When tried, they don’t work. That’s because human beings work best when subjected to some amount of pressure.
Pressure is good. Pressure clarifies. Pressure brings needed focus. Pressure forces learning. It leads to growth. It engenders trust and strengthens bonds between people. Pressure highlights areas of opportunity and causes us to let go of things that matter less. Pressure brings with it maturity and separates those with integrity from those without it. Pressure shines lights on posers, pulls back curtains on frauds, and elevates those who tell the truth. Mostly, pressure separates the kind from the unkind.
See, pressure and unkindness are not synonymous. There is a vast difference between effectively using pressure to clarify deadlines and to ensure accountability, and being a jerk. Those who effectively use pressure know that there is a point at which too much pressure is just as bad as too little. In forming wood, apply too little pressure and the wood will never take shape; apply too much and it will break, likely hurting someone in the process. Leading people is no different, and the kindhearted know it. They know that the key is being aware of when to stop bending. People will tell you where that limit is; all you need to do is listen. True leaders do. And they win because of it.
But nothing happens without pressure. If you’ve ever tried to boil an egg in the mountains you know this. Leading people is no different. Without pressure, everything takes longer and things seem to matter less.
Those who win do so because they engage more fully, more urgently, more passionately, and with more care than the other person – because they accept the privilege to toil under the weight of pressure – which is, after all, just another way to say the weight of responsibility to improve the lives of others – nothing more, in fact, than any of us were called to do in the first place.
So, be like Chef Andrés. Apply pressure.
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Image credit: Katherine Chase | Unsplash.com