In many companies, pressure and pain are equated with performance. Keeping up the pressure prevents complacency and mistakes, the thinking goes.

But healthy pressure can easily tip over into harsh judgment, which isn’t good for you or your business.

CCL’s Marcos Cajina and Ren Washington say the cult of pressure is a bad idea for several reasons, including:

You will make yourself suffer. Being hard on yourself will not prevent you from making mistakes. Putting too much pressure on yourself also leads to fierce self-judging. You begin to think you have to be perfect; there is no room for error; you can’t let anyone else see any cracks or weaknesses. Of course, you aren’t perfect. When you inflict too much self-criticism and self-condemnation — in the name of achievement and performance and success — you are making yourself miserable and, over time, you become toxic to others.

Fearful of making a mistake, the toxic leader passes judgment and dissatisfaction on to others. Lost in fierce self-judgment, you weaken your ability to be understanding and respectful of the circumstances and difficulties of others. You fuel anxiety and embarrassment in the workplace, which in turn, blocks learning, creativity and performance.

An environment of pressure and judging wears on the creative mind. It limits the ability to learn from mistakes and to self-correct. Negative emotions and behaviors become normalized, which diminishes your effectiveness as a leader and undermines sustained performance. You limit your ability to find solutions to problems and do not give creative space for teams to do the same. Negative emotions start to stand in the way of progress.

Lack of progress, inability to build and lead a team, and poor interpersonal relationships — all potentially fueled by pressure-cooker thinking — can lead to burnout and derailment. At least half of all managers derail at some point in their careers. Holding on to negative emotions adds to the likelihood of executive derailment and makes it much harder to experience positive social connections at work (Kanov, Maitlis, Worline, Frost, & Lilius, 2004).

The antidote to pressure and self-judging is compassion, say Cajina and Washington. They suggest that business leaders should apply “compassionate self-correction,” a term and concept coined by Paul Gilbert in his 2009 book, The Compassionate Mind. Compassionate self-correction can allow executives to

  • mitigate burnout and increase resilience.
  • address the causes of suffering and create a healthier, more productive work environment.
  • manage the heavy criticism that occurs when falling short of desired performance.
  • build teams that embrace high accountability instead of perpetuating a pattern of blaming.
  • look at an issue from a place of experience and understanding as opposed to fear and disapproval.
  • increase effectiveness and boost performance.

Bottom line:

Suffering is overrated.

Instead, use compassion to counter self-criticism and blame for a better life and a better business.

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