After coaching managers and execs from companies like Google, Facebook, and HP, I've seen the most successful people use 3 psychological strategies on a daily basis
- Melody Wilding is an executive coach and professor of human behavior who has worked with founders and chief executives across industries like technology, sports, entertainment, and food, and with people from companies like Google, Facebook, and HP.
- She's found that despite differences in their day-to-day demands, there are similarities among how leaders cope with the uncertainty and unique stressors of their jobs.
- They're optimistic but realistic, they tolerate ambiguity, and they're good at regulating their emotions.
Senior executives face constant pressure. Whether it's the breakneck pace of their busy schedule or keeping everyone from shareholders to employees happy, the life of a leader can be extremely stressful.
As an executive coach and human professor behavior, I have an inside view into the high performance habits of CEOs. I've worked with founders and chief executives across industries like technology, sports, entertainment, and food, and with people from companies like Google, Facebook, and HP. In my work, I also get to help leaders develop the mental strength they need to succeed.Despite differences in their day-to-day demands, I've observed similarities among how these leaders cope with the uncertainty and unique stressors of their job. Those who thrive under pressure build a certain psychological skill set - one that helps them bring out the best in themselves and in others, even when times get tough.
1. Realistic optimism
The leaders I work with tend to have an optimistic explanatory style, meaning they view setbacks as temporary and solvable. They have a big vision and believe in their ability to create a positive future, but they're not Pollyannaish, blind optimists.
Instead, they're realistic optimists.
They recognize that a good attitude matters, but nevertheless, they carefully plan for potential obstacles, all without devolving into endless worry. Because they are highly self-aware, these leaders also know how to correct unhealthy thinking patterns that may drag them down.
2. Ambiguity tolerance
Change is the only constant in business and in life, which means that CEOs must become very skilled at dealing with uncertainty. This skill, known as ambiguity tolerance, involves befriending unpredictability and the unknown.Paradoxically, leaders must learn how to relinquish a need for control and sit with the discomfort that comes along with not always having the answers. The most effective CEOs know that acting prematurely without enough information can often steer them (and their entire company) in the wrong direction.
3. Emotion regulation
When you get angry, how do you respond? When you're disappointed in someone, do you let them know or hold resentment inside? The way you manage and express your feelings, or emotional regulation, is a crucial part of leadership and individual happiness.
Responding to external triggers appropriately, instead of letting your emotions spiral out of control, is at the core of performing under pressure. CEOs who excel at this skill are able to calm themselves quickly (usually through mindfulness) and get back to a balanced state where they can think clearly and respond rationally.
Rather than playing the victim, withdrawing, or angrily exploding at those around them, emotionally intelligent leaders share their feelings and communicate with the people around them. That doesn't mean they become pushovers. Upholding your personal boundaries and holding other people accountable matters.
It's important to realize that none of these are inborn traits. They are skills that can be acquired at any point during your career and can benefit you even if you never reach the C-suite. Like any skills, realistic optimism, ambiguity tolerance, and emotion regulation can be learned over time through intentional practice and conscious effort.
Her clients include high-performing managers and leaders at places like Google, Facebook, and HP.