During one of my Financial Services Senior Exec interviews on Leadership (see video), a great observation about inappropriate leadership was raised.  And that was about amplifying the stresses and pressure from above down to your team, and the consequences of doing that to those who receive it.

One of my personal experiences was during the crucial stages of a move of employees and processes to a new offshore location.  We found ourselves in what we later termed a “perfect storm” where the systems didn’t work as expected, the new style of documentation being produced needed repeat processing as the writers changed the content, and the reduced network speed slowed down all the processing (with production of each document taking an average 8 hours instead of 15 mins!).

But the teamwork was awe inspiring with everyone involved working their hardest to find workarounds, provide assistance across departments and make the necessary critical technical changes.

It was at this stage that my boss hauled me into their office and informed me that they had been given a dressing down by their boss, they’d never been so embarrassed, blamed me entirely for its failure, and demanded to know why I had not done my job properly before the live date and by achieving a quick resolution.

It seemed that there was no filtering of the pressure they were receiving from their boss; no deciding on how to appropriately ask for an update and support me going forward; and little appreciation for the work being done by the teams involved.

Unsurprisingly, this was not exactly motivational for me, but through experience I was able to appreciate why my boss was being that way, and was able to take a different approach to theirs as I left his office.

It was up to me to provide my team with only the appropriate facts necessary for them to do the best job of solving the issues quickly and learning the valuable lessons.  Yes, they needed to be aware of the senior executives concerns, but not the detailed stresses of the individuals.  And with all the hard work they had already put in, I did not want to de-motivate them at such a crucial stage through a lack of understanding of the effects my negative behaviour could have on them.

So calm, encouraging and solution-based discussions continued with all involved, enabling quick thinking and creative actions to be implemented until we got the results we all wanted.

Removing the negative pressure and communicating in a way that encourages and motivates is the job of a great leader.  Of course, honesty and integrity are essential in providing the right information at the right time, but it has to be in the most appropriate manner.  Taking the stresses and strains, and effectively dumping them on our team, isn’t going to help us or our team in the long run.

So next time you’re under stress, have deadlines to meet, or your boss is demanding results, just double check on how you are communicating that to your team.

None of us are perfect (and I’ve certainly made a few mistakes in my years), but being aware of when and how you might be tempted to amplify stress down is a good check for developing your leadership style and effective communication skills to encourage motivated and engaged teams.

And so you know, a thorough investigation after our “perfect storm” confirmed that it would have been very difficult to test for the unique combination of issues that we experienced, but we had made some mistakes and were able to implement some additional checks for new projects.  And my boss did take the time to acknowledge this with the teams, as well as amplify our success up to their boss.

And if you’d like to find out how executive coaching can help develop your leadership skills, then please click HERE.



  1. admin

    Thanks Zahid Hussain Abbasi on Linked In:
    Amplifying stress downwards could damage your team performance and make them upset and de motivated,ultimately it pays by company in shape of low performance and low results and revenues.

  2. admin

    Thanks to Andrea Barry on Linked In:
    Karen this can be the most toxic of situations. It stresses and demoralises the team and is a poor method of gaining sympathy or support from team members. However some managers may appear stressed but are just firing on all cylinders; It is how this is perceived by the team – pressure or animation, passion with the need for quick response or someone perceived as being under pressure and passing this on to their team. We all have pressures but not all pressure is bad; we need to address those that cause undue stress before it can impact on other team members. As managers we have the responsibility to get the work done AND recognise and deal with stressed team members and managers alike.

  3. admin

    Thanks to Osvaldo Franco on Linked In:
    Great article! I could not agree more that removing the negative pressure and communicating in a way that encourages and motivates is the job of a great leader. However there are always people that believe that making everybody else’s life miserable is a good thing in the context of pursuing results. Just as if they believed that individuals would do better and endeavor harder to achieve the impossible only when they’re put to extraordinary pressure and stress.
    I came across a boss like that in between 2006 and 2009 and it was rough times. But I’m proud to say I never did the same to my team. On the contrary, I always tried to protect them and create the appropriate environment for them to perform. You know… getting always the good part out of bad stuff… It was a great example for me of what was not supposed to be done.
    But nothing is for free my friends… During those years I found serious difficulties to sleep well and I started developing bruxism. Those days are over and I have got the privilege of working with much better people. But I still have wear a night guard to avoid teeth grinding. I’d say that’s been the most visible consequence of having to work with such an ass…

  4. admin

    Thanks to Neil K Dias on Linked In re consequences of a boss who amplifies their stress down to their team:
    Personally, none. I have always had pleasant (immediate) supervisors, thank God! I have however seen what happens when the supervisor simply conducts the stress from the management onto his team. Such employees who suffer for the lack of pressure handling skills of their supervisors are dissatisfied, cynical, error-prone, grumpy and generally disengaged from their job or the company.

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