The pressure

Because her supervisor called in sick, the graduate has to sit in her supervisor’s meeting with all the big bosses. She has to do her supervisor’s job, present the case for their subdivision and deliver the bad news, news which her supervisor was supposed to deliver. What do you think went through the graduate’s mind?

In the workplace, it’s not uncommon for bad things to happen. Someone made a mistake on the spec sheet resulting in a lot of malfunctions, someone forgot to update the charts and it cost the organization some significant dollar signs, or some unexpected problem appears and no one knows how to fix it.

If the person in charge is you, or if you are the person who made the mistake, you’re going to face some serious pressure, pressure from the higher-ups, your boss, your boss’s boss and so on. And you’re supposed to be able to withstand all that pressure and make your case.

“This is what went wrong, this is what we’re going to do to fix things, and this is how we make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

That’s what all managers want to hear. But what if you can’t answer those questions? What if you don’t know what went wrong, or how to fix it, or how to prevent it from happening again? Or what if this is the same thing that happened last month and the month before?

Would you call in sick and let someone else handle the pressure? Your direct report, that new graduate with only two years of experience, would you leave it to her? And if you really are sick, would it justify passing on all the pressure and responsibility to her?

That poor young graduate, standing alone in a room full of people twice her age, people with more than ten times her experience. What do you think she’s going to do? What would you do if you were in her shoes?

Would you withstand all that pressure and face it head on? “We don’t know but we’re working to find out. Yes, we take full responsibility for that and we’ll work over the weekend if necessary. Yes, we will commit to a report by those dates.”

Or would you deflect it all back to your supervisor, taking zero responsibility for anything? “I don’t know, wait for my supervisor to come back. I’m not sure, let me try calling my supervisor. She’s not answering, can you guys ask her when she gets back? Can’t we reschedule this for some other time? I don’t know, why are you asking me?”

Or would you just protect yourself? “I’m not the one who made that decision. No, I wasn’t aware of that, or that. What’s that? Oh, we have that? Sorry, I didn’t know, I thought it was always this way instead of that. I don’t know really, I’m not the one responsible.”

You might think that it’s not your responsibility, that they can’t expect you to handle all this, and you’re right. You are completely right. But consider this. Sooner or later, it will be your responsibility and you will be the one expected to handle all this. And when the time comes, I hope you don’t pass it on to someone else.

We are only human, no one is built to be able to withstand such pressure straight from day one. The only way to build up your resistance is to practice. Stop trying to run and hide, start standing up for yourself and face the pressure. Face it head on, be comfortable with it and take the responsibility.

The graduate will get nothing but praises if she stood her ground, especially when she’s not even expected to. Society likes people who can lead and take responsibility, people who aren’t afraid of mistakes and failures, people who stood their ground and understood what they’re in for.

The world needs more people who can be counted on.


The inspiration for this came from what my friend went through a few years ago.

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