How Great Leaders Step Up On The Biggest Occasions


Watching the IAAF World Championships this weekend has been an enlightening experience.

I’ve always found professional athletes amazing. To think that in the history of mankind – over hundreds of billions of people – no one has ever run faster, jumped longer or thrown further.

Lifetimes of training, sacrificing and dreaming all coming down to a single race.

Perhaps most interesting of all is the mental strength required to be the best.

There are countless examples of people looking great in training, lower key events and even semi-final heats who just seem to unravel when it counts most. Conversely, often what makes winners special is the exact opposite – they perform best when it matters most – almost as if they thrive on the pressure.

This rare trait isn’t just exclusive to the athletics stadium. In fact in ten years as a recruiter I can say with confidence that often the best leaders I have ever worked with have this unique ability to step-up performance on the biggest of occasions.

Here are some ways how great leaders step up on the biggest occasions.

follow url They prepare

All of us get nervous. It’s human nature and linked to our survival.

The more unsure and unfamiliar we are of our surroundings, the more nervous we are likely to get. And over prolonged periods of time, this can result in sub-par performance and doubt.

Whether it is standing up in front of the school singing a solo, making your first presentation or running in front of a hundred thousand people, if it is the first time you are doing so, it’s bound to feel uncomfortable.

Great leaders understand that although they cannot create every single situation to 100% accuracy, there are still a lot of factors they can simulate. By recreating as much as they possibly can and preparing in advance (practicing presentations in front of other groups, singing in front of a smaller audience etc), they can make sure they are ready when it matters most.

The legendary soccer manager Sir Alex Ferguson has even famously admitted that he often let his team training sessions get “over competitive” on more than one occasion to prepare in advance for tough games.

Rather than just concentrating on skill, mental preparation is essential.

Great leaders get into character.

They relax

When the pressure is on it’s easy to get tense.

We’ve all been in situations where our over-eagerness or desperationto succeed has resulted in us rushing and making mistakes.

Often the opposite is required – whilst most people are focussing on the importance of the occasion, the most successful people just focus on what they need to do. In some cases even just seeing it as just another day-at-the-office and concentrating on executing the basics right.

Whether it is remembering past successes, visualizing in a dark room, listening to your favourite album or even praying – great leaders don’t let the occasions control them.

They focus their attention on the right places and take control themselves.

Great leaders know how to relax.

They get support

As any parent will testify, one of the most powerful tools in performing on the big day is through the support of others that truly care.

It’s amazing how much more you are appreciated on the first day at school, during exam time and the night before that big date!

As social creatures, everything we do seems so much more safer and comfortable with the support of others. And this is perhaps most truest on the biggest occasions – when doubts and pressure can have it’s greatest effect.

A famous CEO I have worked with in the past uses this technique regularly. When he has to make truly high pressure decisions on the biggest occasions he surrounds himself with a specially created management team to reach the best decision. This team consists of around 15 people (both internal employees and external advisors) and I have known them work together for entire days and weeks – even through weekends – so that he gets the best possible solution when he needs it most.

Great leaders lean on others.


Having ability is one thing.

Being able to summon it when you need it most is another.

Hiring managers can gain much from those people who not only have the talent, experience and skill – but who can deliver when its needed most.

Do you step up on the big occasions?

If you are a hiring manager and are passionate about hiring the best people for your team, please reach out here