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In almost every scenario in business and in life getting 95% right is brilliant. There are two situations, however, where 95% isn’t good enough.

One of them makes sense. It’s those critical life moments where people in emergency services have to get it completely right because what they do genuinely determines a life or death outcome.

The second situation doesn’t make sense. It is harsh and unfair …… but it happens.

Leaders and managers are not judged on the 95% of the time when they get it right, they are judged on the 5% when, under pressure, they are LESS than their best.


5% Moments are the Ones People Remember

As leaders and managers we know we are not perfect.

We know there are times when we say things that we later regret. We often wish we could ‘rewind the clock’ and say it better the second time around.

However, we often excuse our behaviour, we justify it by telling ourselves ‘that person is just so frustrating’, ‘they were way out of line’, ‘that client is impossible’, ‘I just can’t help it, she winds me up, it‘s the way I am’, ‘I’m usually okay with this but the pressure is just ridiculous.’

We tend to judge ourselves based on our intention. We say, or at least think, ‘Look, I meant the right thing. I know it didn’t come out in the best way, but my heart was in the right place.’

Unfortunately, the person you spoke to and the others who heard you don’t judge you on your intention. They judge you on the impact you had, which will be strong and negative.

We judge our leadership based on the 95% of time we perform well. Others judge your leadership on the 5% moments, on how you reacted or responded in the difficult, high pressure, high stake occasions.

When you fail to get it right in these situations your team, your colleagues and your customers are likely to say something like ‘Truthfully I don’t rate her that highly as a leader. I mean she’s great when everything is going well, but when the pressure really goes, well she sometimes loses it.’


5% Moments impact your entire team, and its performance

David Maxfield and Justin Hale (HBR, December 2018) researched the impact a leader’s style had on their team, specifically the leader’s style when under pressure. More than 1300 people took part in the research, and the findings were:

  • 45% of leaders are ‘upset and emotional’ rather than ‘calm and in control’ when under pressure
  • 53% of leaders become more closeminded and controlling under pressure
  • 37% avoid or sidestep the issue rather than speaking unambiguously

One in three leaders were seen by their direct reports as someone who can’t engage in a conversation when the stakes get high. And when leaders fail to have effective conversations under stress, their team members are more likely to shut down and stop participating. They are less likely to go above and beyond in their responsibilities and more likely to feel frustrated and angry. They are more likely to complain and even to leave.


How to Handle 5% Moments

There will be times when you are under pressure, there will be times when you feel stressed or frustrated – that’s completely normal.

What you need to focus on is how you behave when these situations arise. How you stay in control of your emotions and gain an outcome, not just have an outburst and then make excuses.

Know yourself well enough to know when your emotions are taking over. Take a pause and ask yourself two critical questions ‘What’s the outcome I want in this situation?’ and ‘What’s the best way to get this outcome with this person?’. When you have answered these two questions, you are then ready to engage in the conversation.

Be mindful that you need to consider not only your words but the way you say them, this means being aware of your tone and your body language.

Knowing that you are judged on these few moments (unfair as this is!) I hope will challenge and inspire you to be your best self in the difficult moments. Conceptually this is easy, in practice it can be challenging, but the consequences of getting it right are undoubtedly worth it – you will shine as a leader.

Equally the consequences of ignoring the significance of your behaviour in 5% moments are severe – your reputation with your team and the way they perform will both suffer.

Plan your specific strategy to manage your emotions and therefore react appropriately in the 5% moments. Then put this plan into practice!


You can fast-track being in control by joining our international GREENLINE program.

In this one-day program, you will learn about the neuroscience that helps you to understand and manage emotions, allowing you to have the conversations needed to get people and situations back on track. Check out the program on our website or call Ramsina McCully on 1300 085 248.