6 Ways To Deal With Pressure When Running A Startup

Launching your own business is a test of character. More startups fail than succeed, and the line between taking flight or crashing and burning can be vanishingly thin. The pressure can feel immense, so it pays to be resilient as well as nimble. But what tactics do the experts recommend to help you hold up under the heat? RSNG investigates…

Embrace Being Under-resourced
Startup pressures often come from being underfunded, understaffed and ultimately under-resourced. It can be easy to see the mismatch between what you are trying to do and what you have available to do it, assume you will never make it, and then cave in to the pressure.

But for leadership guru Simon Sinek, these are precisely the conditions that can forge market-beating innovations: ‘If leaders of organisations give their people something to believe in, if they offer a challenge that outsizes their resources but not their intellect, the people will give everything they have got to solve the problem. And in the process, not only will they invent and advance their company, they may even change the industry or the world in the process (just as an early version of Microsoft did). But if the resources are vastly greater than the problem before us, then the abundance works against us,’ he writes in his book Leaders Eat Last.

‘People end up doing what they think is urgent rather than doing what is important’

Work Out What’s Important
When you first start out with a business you are connected to each part of it, you’re tuned into its nuts and bolts and are able to sense small changes and problems. As you grow, you rely more and more on the people around you to flag up important issues. The problem is that people often find it easier to respond to the obvious issues rather than fundamental ones, especially when the pressure is on.

‘People end up doing what they think is urgent rather than doing what is important. Ask yourself: if it is urgent does it really need to be done right now? Make sure that what is urgent isn’t being done at the expense of what really is important,’ says author and keynote speaker Pete Cohen.

‘You can have loads of people rushing around all the time but who fail to work on what’s really important, which is actually the lifeblood of the company.’

Don’t Give Up…
RSNG has spoken to many successful startup entrepreneurs and they all say that persevering under pressure is vital. In fact, the difference between success and failure can be down to how hard you fight against the urge to give up. In his book Resilience psychologist Rich Hanson talks about the fable of the frogs that fell into a bucket of cream. The sides were steep so none could escape, and one by one they gave up and drowned. All except one frog who just kept swimming, even when all hope seemed lost – eventually its legs churned the cream into solid butter, allowing it to hop out to safety.

‘It's usually the small, undramatic, sustained efforts over time that make the most difference,’ writes Hanson. ‘No matter what, you can still persist on your own behalf, if only inside your mind. Even if your efforts don’t pay off, you’ll know in your heart you tried, and that in itself feels honourable and comforting.’

‘Would you celebrate someone who told you to abandon your plan because he made a careless mistake?’

…But Avoid Get-there-itis
Not giving up is one thing, but persisting with a plan or course of action that you, or others around you feel could be disastrous, even though you seem close to your goal, is quite another. In the airline industry, crash investigators call this ‘get-there-itis’ or more formally, ‘plan continuation bias’ – the closer a pilot is to their destination, the stronger this bias gets.

In their book, Meltdown, Chris Clearfield and Andras Tilcsik tell the story of an enlisted seaman on an aircraft carrier who lost his tool during a combat exercise. He knew that if it was sucked into the jet intake of an aircraft it could cause a fatal catastrophe, but if he reported it the whole exercise would be canned, and he could get into trouble. He reported it, but rather than being punished he was commended for his bravery in a formal ceremony.

A formal ceremony! It’s an incredible response. Celebrate the guy whose dumb mistake forced us to call off the exercise and scour every inch of a huge deck for a lost tool! What would happen in your organisation? Would you celebrate someone who told you to stop everything and abandon your plan because he had made a careless mistake?’ the authors asked.

Have A Vision
Setting goals is important but make sure your roadmap is more than just a series of benchmarks. Visualise what you are trying to achieve so that you can feel genuinely inspired by what you are aiming for.

‘If someone has a startup you can guarantee that they are going to get a hell of a lot of knockbacks. But if they are inspired, can see where they are going and have got a vision that is bigger than any problem that they may be dealing with, then they are much more likely to be successful,’ says Pete Cohen.

Stop Trying To Multitask
As the leader of a startup it is tempting to attempt to be over everything, to make sure no missteps are happening. But this risks you exceeding your working memory, becoming distracted and serially ineffective.

‘We probably have more time than we realise, but we spend way too much time being distracted and giving our attention to things that have no importance. There’s the whole social media thing, but also, we are not designed to be multitasking,’ says Cohen. ‘Human beings are terrible at it – we’re just kidding ourselves. We try and do many things at once but never feel that we have done a particularly good job on it because deep down we know that we haven’t.’

Ask For Help
Running your own business can leave you isolated, if you think it’s your job to be responsible for solving every issue. For Cohen, this is one of the ways that startups waste precious time, energy and resources: ‘People not asking for help when they have got a problem and trying to work it out themselves.’ Instead, trust your staff to help you out of the hole and be humble enough to ask for help.

WHAT NEXT? For more startup hacks read the RSNG guide to inspiring leadership.

Follow this article’s author on Instagram @The_Adventure_Fella

*You can buy ‘Inspirators’ by Pete Cohen here ; ‘Meltdown’ by Chris Clearfield and Andras Tilcsik here ; ‘Resilient’ by Rick Hanson here