They call it March Madness for a reason. The NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament is a high-stakes, winner-take-all spectacle that brings out the best in athletes, teams, and coaches from college basketball programs across the country. The teams that separate themselves from the pack by reaching the championship game have a lot in common. They all have a unique combination of talent, leadership, experience and strategy, but perhaps most importantly, they have the ability to stay “cool” under pressure and attain victory in the most intense, pressure-packed moments.
The same is true for those of us who play on (or lead) teams outside the sport of basketball. High performing leaders – and teams – have the ability to stay cool in pressure-packed moments to manage challenges and achieve results. Think about the last time your team received some really bad news, grappled with a crisis, or began tackling an immense roadblock to success. How did you (and/or your team leader) respond in that moment? Chances are, that response had a huge impact on the overall success of your team.
Bad news, crises and immense challenges are all a part of March Madness and leadership, and how you respond in those moments can define both your team and who you are as a leader. Teams look to their leader first for an indication of how to respond in these moments. Imagine the starting point guard on a basketball team that is down by 3 points with a minute left in the regional finals of the NCAA tournament. If that point guard carries himself with confidence, communicates clear directions, keeps others at ease, and stays positive, his teammates will mirror his demeanor. But if the point guard appears concerned, shuts down, lashes out, or even takes himself out of the game, chances are the team is in trouble.
As you think about the importance of keeping your cool under pressure, here are a few tips to consider:
Practice Emotional Intelligence:
Keeping your cool is all about managing your emotions. Keeping others cool is about managing the emotions of others. Work on building your self-awareness so that you can recognize your own emotional triggers and manage them, especially in the face of challenges. This is what helps keep you calm on the outside and maintain the confidence of others when you’re under pressure.
Calmly Assess the Challenge:
Problems oftentimes appear more severe at first. Take time to truly understand the issue you’re facing and resist the temptation to react immediately. This doesn’t always mean taking days or weeks to respond – even a simple 3-minute “time out” can be enough for you to make a calm assessment.
Your team wants to hear from you when there’s a major challenge at hand. Once you’ve taken your own assessment of the challenge, share what you know, provide space for others to give input, and decide on a clear course of action (i.e. your “game plan”).
Hall of fame college basketball coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels, Dean Smith, once said, “If you make every game a life and death proposition, you’re going to have problems. For one thing, you’ll be dead a lot.” In most jobs, even the toughest problems aren’t routinely life and death propositions. Keeping this in mind can help you – and your team – keep your challenge in perspective, and more successfully address the situation.
Just as negativity has an enormously detrimental impact on team morale, positivity can make all the difference. Find the silver lining, identify that glimmer of hope, and help others see that victory is possible. The greatest coaches truly believe that their teams can win the toughest games or turn things around at half time, and they help their players believe it too!
So as the madness of March unfolds over the coming weeks, keep a look out for which teams separate themselves from the pack by staying cool when the pressure is at its highest. Their cool just might be the key ingredient that wins them a National Championship.