SEA few months ago, the Statistician-General released a report showing an increase in people living in extreme poverty. This may seem like a social problem removed from business, but it is closer to business leadership and the decisions taken daily.

More and more leaders are exposed to either societal pressure, client or market pressure, social media or political pressure. This pressure is not only experienced by CEOs, but it is there at all leadership and managerial levels. How you manage yourself under this pressure is what will determine the outcome.

Realising the pressure

Understanding why you are under pressure (what has brought about the pressure) and who is behind the pressure helps to manage your actions in a situation. Asking the questions which may have seemed trivial before has never been more of a necessity – including questioning your boss, your client or colleagues. So, go on and ask the very important questions ‘Why is this happening?’ when you are under pressure and ‘What purpose is it serving?’.

Spread time between cause and effect

The time between cause and effect, which is the time between the external pressure you experience and your reaction, is crucial. Practising the ability to stretch this time is a skill. For example, the more time you have to think about how to react to the social or office political pressure, the more measured your reaction. Appreciating that not all the information you need to make decisions will be readily available when you are under pressure, you will need to be comfortable with making decisions with 80% (or less) of the available information. Therefore, however urgent or pressing the matter is, ask for more time to gather your thoughts about your response. Assess the impact of your decision on as many dimensions as possible – the impact on your team, employees, social and environmental impact, as well as psychological or physical impact.


Sometimes we make mistakes or do not make optimal decisions under pressure. Take time to reflect and briefly look in the rear-view mirror. Reflect long enough to learn from the past in order to make better decisions going forward, but don’t look back for too long.

Societal pressure on business leaders is here to stay. It is easy to make an adverse selection when under pressure and faced with limited information. Think of all the possible dimensions and the impact of your decision and, most importantly, manage your reaction the best way you can. There’s a saying that ‘if you fly alone you die alone’. Whatever the work/business pressure, there is always support.


  • Do not be shy to ask questions or seek clarity before making a decision.
  • Ascertain whether the pressure is real or perceived.
  • Use the risk management structures in your company to manage some of the pressure, especially external.
  • With the rise of social media there are no inconsequential decision.
  • Manage yourself and your reactions and what is within your control.

Gugu Mtetwa CA(SA) Non-Executive Director