As a leader of a fast-growth company or startup, you will find many things working against progress.
It could be money, a weak talent pool, shifts in the marketplace, a big announcement from a competitor, delays in product development or a mishap in customer service. The list goes on and on. However, an issue that isn’t unique to companies but seems to be a frequent visitor to the startup and fast-growth world is pressure.
Pressure on Performance
This incredible impediment to growth occurs when employees move from eustress (also known as “good stress:” a constructive form of tension that improves performance) to distress (a destructive form tension resulting in poor performance).
In my experience building a startup, eustress moves to distress with the assistance of poor interpersonal interactions. As the stakes are raised and the challenges become more daunting — which happens as your company grows — both employees and founders can fear the worst. Self-esteem might decrease, and you or they worry that they aren’t good enough to achieve their goals. This can bring an employee into defense mode: sabotaging initiatives or teammates in order to be right.
Distress, and the poor interpersonal interactions that create it, can be mitigated through a deliberate focus on the big picture and how individual goals play into the whole. I’ve also found that humor helps.
Humor as an Antidote
As a leader, it’s imperative for me to employ humor as a function of being mindful. Almost always, when I have the presence of mind to stop and consider the tension that has built in an interpersonal interaction, having the self-awareness to remember the unavoidable absurdity of life is an incredibly effective tool.
Humor almost always diffuses the type of tension that tears companies apart. I like to make myself the willful target of humor. This serves a dual purpose: it creates levity and it also sets an example that it’s alright to be foolish, and it’s alright to be imperfect. In this way, making light of oneself diffuses tension and encourages others to take risks and feel less stress.
Most leaders I know are afraid of looking weak. As a result, they are never self-deprecating and don’t allow themselves to be the butt of their own jokes. However, the leaders with enough self-confidence to do so stand to benefit tremendously.
A version of this post originally appeared on the Majority blog, here.