I recently listened to a founder CEO describe the intense pressure she and her company had been under for the past three years. There were good and bad things that resulted. Recently she has found the pressure diminishing and business growing rapidly.
That brought to my mind another fishing analogy. Once I've hooked a fish on a fly line, I know I have only a limited amount of pressure I dare apply as I reel in the fish and land it in my net. The fish is hooked by a tiny fly that is attached by a hair-thin leader to the fishing line. Too much pressure and the line goes snap, and away swims the fish. The fish can also be lost with too little pressure. When given a bit of slack, the fish will turn quickly, breaking the tiny leader and one more fish is gone. There is a delicate range of pressure that is allowable and when respected enables me to reel in the fish, with patience and skill. That is part of the challenge and fun.
Startup CEOs know and respect the range of pressure they can put on themselves and the management of their companies. Finding the range of capacity for pressure that is best for the situation calls for special people skills and care in execution of the business plan. Most startups are inclined to put too much pressure on the organization, not too little. The old saying is that "Entrepreneurs always run scared" and therefore extra fast. By acknowledging that tendency for applying too much pressure, a CEO makes it easy to be alert and to know when pressure balancing errors are being made.
There are great rewards for applying the right amount of pressure. There is research that encourages finding the sweet spot of hard work and long hours. Behavioral studies reveal that people are very innovative within a range of pressure, but too much dulls creativity and leads to poor product designs and inferior quality. The adrenaline rush of the early days of startup chaos are thrilling but if continued over long periods of time, lead to burnout and bad business decisions. Action without results, pressure for pressure's sake, becomes demoralizing.
So think about the pressure you are putting on yourself and your organization.
BOTTOM LINE: Each organization has finite capability to sustain acute pressure for long periods of time. Yes, people often discover they can do a lot more under higher levels of pressure than they have worked under before. But there is a point of diminishing returns. Then innovation, creativity and good decisions turn sour. Experienced leaders understand that and are are constantly seeking the best range of pressure for their organizations.