Harvard Business Online
How to Stay Creative Under Pressure
Posted on Leadership at Work: July 6, 2009 4:52 PM Sergio Marchionne has lit a fire under Chrysler that is providing a spark of hope to the ailing automaker. From media reports, it seems that the Fiat team under Marchionne's leadership is shaking up the place the way another Italian (albeit American) did a generation ago, Lee Iacocca. As a hands-on manager, Marchionne expects his direct reports to meet with him regularly, which they can do face to face at Chrysler or via video conference. He also has ditched the executive suite for the engineering trenches so he can be closer to the action. Marchionne is to be commended for keeping the loop tight enough that executives can keep each other informed. But there is there is a price to pay. Marchionne, according to the Wall Street Journal, he expects his executives to be in the office as he is six or seven days a week "for the foreseeable future." Creating urgency to save a sinking ship is imperative. Working long hours to do so is also critical, but working day after day for months on end without a break is a bad idea. When a team is crashing on a deadline, pulling together can be energizing. But when there is no deadline in sight, the long hours exact vengeance in the form of loss of energy as well as diminished commitment. Managers do not become more creative by working harder; they burnout more quickly. You need give people a break from the day to day flow of work. Here are some suggestions for sustaining productivity under fire. Set standards. The team leader must make it clear that during the crisis people are expected to assume a greater work load. The leader sets the example by taking more than his fair share of the work. Part of that work means being there for his team. At the same time, the leader does not need to decide how individuals must work. Often employees can decide how best to do their jobs. For example, mandatory meetings are fine, but every meeting need not be mandatory. Get a buddy. One way to work smarter is to do what I have seen efficient organizations do. Team up with a co-worker to cover for you, not simply on vacations but also during times you will be out of the office. If your buddy is junior to you, then it can be a development opportunity. The leader can also buddy with a colleague or boss to stand in for him, too. Many organizations preach team as in collaboration but too few take advantage of treating teammates as partners. You can do more when individuals work together. Mandate fresh air time. Get out of the office from time to time. This can be as simple as going out for lunch, or taking a walk in the afternoon. Clock time in the gym, too. Fitness is essential for tackling a heavy workload. The leader also sets the tone by making time for himself. When the team sees the boss taking a break (mental or physical), it gives the team permission to do likewise. Without the leader's example, no one will follow through on making time for self. Clocking long hours is not reserved for the corporate suite. Working in government, or even in the highest office in the land—the White House—can be grueling. President Obama vowed to make his administration family friendly, but as his chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel quips, "It's friendly to your [Obama] family." As a result many staffers, as reported in the New York Times, are feeling stressed chiefly because they miss time with their families. Continued long stretches of working extraordinary hours will cause talented people to leave early. Taking breaks is not the same as doing business as usual. It is an acknowledgement that people are your most valuable resource. They need rest and relaxation as well as an opportunity to reconnect with their families. Rather than diminish urgency, it heightens it. Getting outside of the bubble of work allows the mind and body to recharge and be better prepared to face the gauntlet of challenges that lie ahead.