By Bill Stainton
Have you ever felt pressure to produce, even when you know you’ve got what it takes?
I was just talking with a friend of mine-Bruce-who is also, like me, an amateur musician. Don’t get me wrong-we’ve both played professionally in the past. But now we each have full-time careers outside of music, although we still play with bands whenever we get the chance.
Bruce was telling me about a time a few years ago when he was visiting a friend of his, and the friend suggested they go to a blues jam. For the uninitiated, this is where the house band encourages (or, sometimes, just tolerates) other musicians sitting in with them. Bruce plays the harmonica (quite well), and his friend suggested that he bring his harps (that’s what musicians call harmonicas) with him. Bruce was a little reluctant but eventually acquiesced.
Now, the typical protocol for a “guest” musician is to wait until the band takes a break, and then to politely ask if they’d mind if he or she sits in for a song. But unbeknownst to Bruce, his friend had been pestering the band non-stop: “Hey, let my friend play. My friend plays the harmonica. He’s really good. You should let my friend play.” So when the band leader finally announced, “Apparently there’s a guy here who wants to play harmonica, so get up here,” he didn’t sound very welcoming. In fact, he sounded pissed off.
Imagine that pressure. You go up to the stage to play with a band that doesn’t want you there, in front of an audience that now thinks you’re kind of a jerk. Even though none of this was Bruce’s fault, he told me that he was feeling extreme pressure to produce.
Fortunately, Bruce can play. The phrase in the music business is that he “has chops.” And if there’s one thing musicians respect, it’s another musician who has chops. When Bruce started to leave after his one song, the bandleader grabbed him and said, “No, no… you stay up here.”
After that, Bruce felt no pressure. Because he’d passed the audition. He’d shown that he has chops.
This is what I call the Pressure of the First Time. You’ve probably felt it. Maybe not at a blues club, but how about that first day on the new job? How about the first time you led a team? How about your first crisis in the workplace?
It’s the pressure of having a skeptical team (or audience) looking to an unproven entity (you) to produce results.
Your job, at that point, is to pass the audition. It’s to show the team that you have chops. And here’s something important: you don’t have to dazzle them. You just have to show them that you can handle yourself-that you can come through, that you can produce-when results matter. When you do that, you earn the respect of the band, the team.
But you have to have chops first. You have to have competence. You have to be good.
When you’re a leader-particularly in a new situation-pressure is just a part of the territory. The key to handling the Pressure of the First Time is, first, to realize that it’s natural; and, second, to know that you’ve got the chops to handle it.
About the author
For 15 years, Executive Producer Bill Stainton led his team to more than 100 Emmy Awards and 10 straight years of #1 ratings. Today Bill helps leaders achieve those kinds of results–in THEIR world and with THEIR teams. His website is http://www.BillStainton.com