The role of CEO is one that often comes with considerable pressure. Justin Menkes of Spencer Stuart (an AESC member firm) looks at what it takes to be an effective leader under high pressure situations, and how to bring the best out of themselves and others.

What attributes separate those who thrive under pressure, and those who crack under pressure?

A big factor in dealing successfully with pressure is preparation. The modern business world is one of constant challenges – while the standard protocol used to be to face crises, withstand the storm and get through the other side, the consistency of pressure in today’s environment means leaders must learn to not only deal with pressure but thrive upon it.

To be unprepared for pressure is bad for you and can affect performance, but pressure in a moderate amount is important in keeping us challenged and motivated. As human beings, we crave challenge to avoid becoming restless, but it is important to distinguish between pressure and panic.

How can you help executives prepare for pressure?

There are 3 attributes they must master:

  1. Realistic optimism
  2. Subservience to purpose
  3. Finding order in chaos

Great leaders maximize the discretionary efforts made by their team - subservience to purpose involves defining your work in a way that allows people to understand the reasoning and purpose behind it. It is vital for the morale of employees to understand that their actions can make a positive difference to the world, no matter how small.

The attributed needed to thrive under pressure comes more naturally to some than others – what methods can be taken when teaching these skills, or learning them yourself?

One of the key messages in Justin Menkes' book, ‘Better Under Pressure’ is that no one is a fixed entity – everyone is capable of being hard-working or lazy depending on the specific context. An exercise suggested in the book is to think about what you hate in your job – often this is something that others in your position will also dislike, such as giving honest and perhaps negative feedback to employees. If you can then force yourself to focus on this aspect of your job, you are differentiating yourself from other leaders by seeking out something that others avoid.

The full Harvard Business Channel interview with Justin Menkes:


This article was written by Chris Storey from the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC).

BlueSteps is the exclusive service of the AESC that puts senior executives on the radar screen of over 6,000 executive search professionals in over 70 countries. Be visible, and be considered for up to 50,000 opportunities handled by AESC search firms every year. Find out more at


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