Why Leaders Should Run Toward Pressure, Not Away

By Eric Geiger

The first episode of the new Netflix documentary series, The Playbook, features basketball coach Doc Rivers. Coach Rivers led the Boston Celtics to a championship in 2008. Coaching one of the most storied professional basketball franchises put an immense amount of pressure on Rivers and the whole team. Instead of minimizing the pressure, Rivers put a spotlight on it. An actual spotlight. He had a spotlight set up shining on an empty place in the rafters where the banner would be placed if they won the NBA finals.

Rivers says: “I don’t think you should run from a legacy, or run from pressure or run from expectations. I think you should run toward it.”

When it comes to growing in your craft or developing as a leader, pressure is something you should run toward, not from.

In their book, The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath offer similar encouragement based on their research and interviews with psychologists. They explain that by placing yourself in a situation where you feel pressure, you are positioning yourself for either development and growth or self-discovery and refocus. If you take on additional pressure, you either (a) will develop new skills and thrive or (b) discover you do not want or are not made for this particular path. Either scenario is a win. If the pressure develops you, you become more skilled in that particular craft or discipline. If the pressure causes you to “tap out,” you then get to refocus your life on something else you are more passionate about.

The pressure will develop you.

Recently I was leading a session with some of our younger leaders on our team, and one of them asked what has been the biggest source of my development. I answered “seasons of being overwhelmed” and offered a few examples. When you are overwhelmed, you are forced to learn new skills that you will not learn until you have to learn them. From my perspective as a follower of Jesus, I also know this to be true. When you are overwhelmed, you are driven to a greater dependence on Jesus and an opportunity to see Him do amazing things as He is attracted to our weakness and loves when we are in a posture of humble reliance on Him.

Or the pressure will refocus you.

If the pressure of a new responsibility or additional discipline does not develop the leader, it will instead cause him to realize, “I am not that passionate about this” or “I am not particularly gifted for this.” This is not a failure. This is great! Because now the leader can focus with more confidence on what he or she is most passionate about or gifted for.

The pressure is a win either way.

What is not a win is just existing and meandering and doing what you have always done because that is what you have always done. Sadly, that is what many people do. They miss out on being developed or on focusing with greater clarity on what they are most passionate about.

The leaders who run toward pressure and not away are the leaders who will enjoy development or refocus.

This post originally appeared on Eric’s blog.

Published November 27, 2020

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Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger is the Senior Pastor of Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Before moving to Southern California, Eric served as senior vice-president for LifeWay Christian Resources. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. Eric has authored or co-authored several books, including the best-selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, taking his daughters to the beach, and playing basketball.