Skip to main content

Learning to be a Clutch’ Leader

| January 18, 2011

by Jim Bruce

In the sports world, a “clutch” player performs best when the pressure is on.  [See “Learning to be a ‘Clutch’ Leader” by Sean Silverstone, editor of HBS’s Working Knowledge newsletter.]  In the thinking of Paul Sullivan, New York Times business columnist and author of “Clutch:  Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t,”  the best example of a “clutch” person is the military leader – someone trained to make combat decisions with life or death consequences.  [See, “How Cadets Learn to be ‘Clutch’,”.]

Sullivan believes that “clutch” leaders, ones who succeed under pressure, regardless of their field, share five traits all of which can be learned:

1.  FOCUS:  They can block out everything that distracts them from reaching their goal.  What is your primary goal?  How do you keep it in focus?

2.  DISCIPLINE:  They stay the course, no matter the pressure.  They can do this because they are able to perform their tasks perfectly under normal conditions.

3.  ADAPTABILITY:  They “fight the fight, not the plan.”  They don’t let their ego stop them from abandoning the wrong course of action.  Are you rpepared to change things that aren’t working even if the change is very hard and reverses something you implemented?

4.  BEING PRESENT:  Be in the now, not in the past nor the future.

5.  FEAR and DESIRE:  The desire for success in combination with the fear of failure.

Excelling at these five traits – focus, discipline, adaptability, being present, and fear and desire – prepares the leader to succeed under difficult circumstances.  With this preparation for success, however, comes susceptibility to three common personality flaws that surface under extreme pressure and cause people to choke:

1.  Not taking responsibility for your actions.

2.  Being over confident.

3.  Over-thinking your role in the organization.

So, what we’ve learned from Paul Sullivan is that hard work focusing on your objective, adapting to your context, and improving you skills will put you in the best position to succeed when it gets tough.

Take some time today to develop your plan to become a better clutch leader in the new year.


.  .  .  .  .     jim