Performing Under Pressure | Book Review

“The Bottom Line – pressure is the enemy of success”

Summarizes (from page 3) Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry’s well-researched dissertation. The two authors methodically challenge mistaken conventional, hero-based thinking about performance, and instead offer practical guidance for self-improvement, and more importantly, for coaching others. The key takeaway - four attributes: confidence, optimism, tenacity and enthusiasm (COTE) - lead to consistently best behavior while in pressure moments.

Recommended Approach

Read the Acknowledgements (story starts 39 years ago - page 283) and Appendix B (page 275 very similar to Leader’s Compass 360) first. This builds author credibility and sets up the book. Part Two, Pressure Solutions, describes 22 suggested techniques, forming prescriptive future reference.

Part One | Pressure

Backed by data, the authors cite Roy Hobbs and Michael Jordan myths (pages 22-29) and dispel the belief some people perform better in clutch situations. Chapter Two: The Stress of Pressure, offers terrific differentiation between stress and pressure, and subsequent ramifications (page 42):

“Confusing stress for pressure makes it even more difficult, because we end up wasting physical, emotional, and psychic energy on things that, ultimately, don’t matter.”

Additionally, a high-pressure situation definition is offered (page 46):

The outcome is important to you.

The outcome is uncertain.

You feel you are responsible for and are being judged on, the outcome.

The more intense the pressure situation, the more likely you are to underperform.

The Nature of Choking, Chapter Four (pages 56-70), is a gem. A wonderfully revealing working and procedural memory discussion on pages 62-65 prompts powerful individual reflection. This is very similar to the referenced Daniel Kahneman pathfinder Thinking, Fast and Slow. Choking has more to do with the effects of pressure on performance than on the outcome (page 57). A fantastic chapter for coaching, especially for helping those who have lost confidence and/or are making bad (rather than wrong) decisions.

Chapter Six, Pressure Traps, meditates on typical and misguided motivation techniques. The authors specifically recommend creating a mastery motivational climate (similar to Dan Pink’s Drive), rather than an ego oriented (think of the movie Glengarry Glen Ross) one.

Part Two Pressure Solutions

Scan the twenty-two solutions, find your favorites and try a couple new ones. These jumped out:

Pressure solutions one and two (pages 111-115), Befriend the Moment and Multiple Opportunities could easily be combined and retitled your Attitude is your Destiny. Or put another way, we may choose that an event is an opportunity or a crisis, and may likewise choose to under or over exaggerate situations. Less exaggeration equals less pressure.

Pressure solution six, Recognize That You are Worthy (page 122), asks to list values and importance as well as positive attributes, much like composing a Personal Leadership Philosophy.

Pressure solution eighteen, Be Obsessive and Compulsive, is full of nuggets helpful for public speaking, competition, and many other situations.

Part Three, Building Your COTE

of Armor, describes each of the four traits and encourages active practice beginning on pages 177, 220, 241 & 259, respectively.

Engaging in Confidence Habits (page 189), lawyers and pessimism (page 199), Instilling Optimism in Yourself (page 220), Talent is Never Enough (pages 226-228), Hope (pages 235-239), Tenacity and Energy (pages 241-243, including reference to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow), and the enthusiastic one-person  (pages 256-259) finding are memorable examples solidifying the four traits.

Finally, pages 263-266 call for connecting with the goals of one’s organization (also an excellent approach to a Personal Leadership Philosophy) and Connection as the basis for team building referencing John Lasseter at Pixar. Great story.

JE | March 2015