Recently, I was having a conversation with a retired leader from a very elite classified counter-terrorism organization that is renowned for their leadership in highly pressurized environments. A theme of this conversation was how critical it is for elite teams and individuals working in extreme environments to be supported by elite systems. For teams, these systems could include protocols, tools, preparation rituals, or procedures. For individuals, it could be your start-of-the-day ritual, your go-to High Performance snacks, your daily movement routine, or even your mental preparation to visualize success before you engage. These personal systems, when properly designed and implemented, will help you perform in times of high pressure.
Without great systems in place, a company trying to scale fast can ask too much of a few key players, resulting in failure or even burnout of their most talented people. If an individual doesn’t have the right systems in place during times of high pressure, they can quickly find themselves in survival mode, which can destroy the necessary mindset skills such as creativity, mental agility, and your ability to challenge the status quo and find the best solutions rather than simply the easiest solution.
The best leaders I’ve ever met used personal systems to help ‘get themselves right’ before they addressed their teams. This system of preparation gifted them a unique sense of calmness under pressure and this was often contagious for the team around them.
These systems are never created in the middle of the crisis or in the middle of your tough days. Elite systems are designed, tested, and practiced on the normal days. When this is done consistently, you will find that in times of high stress your systems run in the background seamlessly and this gives you the luxury to focus acutely on the complex problems at hand.
I’ve noticed that individuals who perform well in times of high pressure do two things better than most - they have a clear and uncluttered mind and they have more control over their emotional state. Invest some time in practicing these skills on your normal days and you will build a system that will pay huge dividends on your toughest days.
Practice setting clear intentions before your day and before key meetings. What does success look like today? What are the key deliverables? How do I want to be perceived today? What is within my control here?
Utilize breathing to optimize your emotional state:
_Take 1 minute to regain control of anxiety: breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4. Repeat 4 times.
_Take 20 seconds to re-energize a tired brain: breathe in for a count of 4, exhale forcefully to a count of 1. Repeat 4 times.
Of course, the above are only two of countless strategies that could be part of your elite system. Other areas of great importance can range from how you organize yourself, to what you eat, to how you recover.
In the end, a system is only truly ‘elite’ if it consistently produces repeatable and highly successful outcomes. This may take some trial and error to see what strategies give you the best results.
As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts or even examples of your own elite systems.