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July 30, 2015

Don’t let your brain get in the way of a great performance. This is as true in the board room as it is on the golf course.

A while back, we successfully pitched for a very large piece of business. Afterwards, the client told me they were surprised by how nervous most of the competing teams seemed. We learned that a leader at our toughest competitor told his team that the pitch was a career-maker or breaker deal. In the process, he raised the stakes for his team and degraded their performance. Great for us!

In contrast, we sent a talented senior team and simply said we wanted to put our best foot forward and let the client know what we stood for, why we were different from our competitors, and what made our firm a great fit for this assignment. I let our team know that this was just one of many big opportunities for which we are competing.

Before every big presentation, I remind our team and myself:

This is not a life or death situation. There will be many opportunities like this in the future. Don’t expect perfection in the first ten minutes of the meeting.

For example, if you believe that you must deliver a ten-minute opening monologue that makes the clients stand and applaud, I guarantee you will fail.

As a leader, it is my job to reduce the pressure on our team and increase their confidence.

You should know that pressure degrades performance and makes everything speed up.

So on your way to the meeting:

  • Walk slower
  • Take time to breathe
  • Talk slower

In the meeting itself:

  • Take more time between your statements
  • Take more time to listen to questions
  • Think longer before responding
  • Slow the pace of the meeting
  • Focus on the client, not what you are going to say next

Professional LPGA golfer Julia Boland has helped me to learn about performing under pressure. The lessons from the tour translate directly to the board room. I, along with some of my friends at Alvarez & Marsal, have been blessed to sponsor Julia on the Tour.

You may ask what a middle-aged business executive can learn from a 28-year-old golf professional. My answer is “A LOT!”  

After each tournament, Julia shares her perspective on her performance in the event and her lessons learned competing at the highest levels.

After winning her first professional tournament, Julia shared that at a critical moment in the final round on the 12th hole, she said a prayer. It was, “Dear God, let me breathe.”

While Julia and I react to pressure by consciously trying to slow down the pace, countless other professionals are telling themselves, “I can’t blow this. I can’t panic. This is my one shot at success. I can’t freak out.”

On the days Julia plays well, she is proactive and focused, telling herself, “I’m going to hit it straight down the right side” rather than “stay away from the water on the left.”

Decide what you are going to do. Reduce the pressure on your team. Build their confidence and aim for the target. And it doesn’t hurt to have a trusted caddy by your side to build your confidence and reduce the pressure of the moment.