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As an engineering student during the heyday of the US Space Shuttle program, I learned some valuable leadership lessons as we studied the program. For example, the shuttle was designed with two key stress events in mind – maximum aerodynamic stress during ascent, and maximum thermodynamic stress during re-entry.

If something would go bad wrong, it would be at one of those two points in flight.

Just as the shuttle engineers designed for those two maximum stress points, so too effective leaders develop certain mindsets that are invaluable to leading when the pressure is on.

Here are three mindsets that can be readily embraced by any of us willing to be changed by them.

Mindset #1: Stress is an undeniable part of reality

Effective leaders are not scandalized that stressful events happen. They realize stress to be a part of every life and position.

So many times we create a romanticized view of the world that seems to deny it is still imperfect, people are flawed, and anything from computers to agreements can break down. There is no perfect job, perfect company, perfect mate, perfect market, perfect career or perfect solution.

In fact a romanticized view of life actually creates more stress when reality does not deliver on our fantasy expectations. Paradoxically a leader leads better into the future to the extent they embrace the reality of the present.

It’s not always easy when the stress approaches a maximum. Yet we are never without an option in leading through it. This takes us to the next valuable mindset.

Mindset #2: You have a choice in how you respond to stress

You do have a choice in how you respond to the stress in your life. This is not saying you can choose whether or not there are stressful events. It’s just that effective leaders know the one thing they can control is themselves. When a stress event occurs, how they respond becomes a source of great empowerment.

Instead of fighting to avoid stress, squirming to deny stress, or being a victim of stressful situations, their emotional and mental energy is invested in creating an objective platform upon which they can continue to lead, one decision at a time.

Because of Mindset #1, they are not encumbered by the thought of making the wrong decision. Some decisions will be wrong. That is the reality, but not the final word.

Which leads us to the third mindset.

Mindset #3: Healthy responses to stress can be learned and developed

The only way to triumph over stress is to learn how to effectively deal with the stress events that come your way. Mindset is everything. Skill is a close second. It’s impossible to design a stress free life, but you can design for the stresses of life.

Responding to stress is a practiced skill built upon these three mindsets. It’s something to work on during times when the stress is not so high.

The net gain from it all is a powerful paradigm in which to live, work and lead in lieu of stress…as opposed to stress working and leading you in lieu of life.

And that is a difference worth pursuing.

Make Life Count