Managing under Pressure – Intro: Four Lessons of a Rescue Diver

Interim managers are extreme managers. They have very limited time to initiate a successful turnaround in companies, while operating with limited insight and in a tense atmosphere. This is exactly what I have been practicing for almost 20 years – benefitting from my experience as a rescue diver.

The connection between diving and management might surprise you, but it is closer than you think. When you work as an interim manager in a company like I do and dive intensively in your free time, you can feel the connections intensely. Diving has taught me to assess situations under pressure, communicate effectively, make quick decisions and maintain focus. These skills are also what I use for each of my interim assignments.


What puts managers under pressure?

Often the situation in a company is confusing, especially for someone like me who is called when problems can no longer be solved internally. There are many reasons for this. Sometimes I am called because of a lack of resources; sometimes they simply don’t have the know-how. In some cases, I am the first choice because “sweeping changes” are necessary and, as you know, “new brooms” are more effective.

In my experience, initiating change is always a matter of quickly gaining insight as to where the real problems lie. I am then challenged to communicate clearly and in a sustainable manner. This is the only way to be reliable, the only way to build trust and the only way to bring simmering conflicts to the surface in a timely manner. If I want to change things, I must make decisions, and make them quickly and consistently. I can’t afford to get stuck in the mud because my time is limited.


What diving teaches you

What I have learned and what I practice during tricky diving assignments helps me as an interim manager. Because in diving also, it is mandatory to quickly orientate myself in unknown, often murky waters. Here, too, I must communicate effectively when working in a team – without any language at all. Here, too, I must make decisions quickly and decisively, which, for better or worse often determine the survival of my diving colleagues or those to be rescued.

I can only do all this under water as long as I have sufficient breath. This is probably the most important lesson for my managerial life that I have learned as a diver. Under water, time is breath. When on corporate assignments, breath is power and effect. Only if I keep my focus in a diffuse environment and across a variety of tasks, can I unleash the power and effect that enables me to start turning the situation around within the given time frame.


What you can expect in the coming series

I will explain the exact process in the following four articles. The articles will deal with how I work in new companies and in foreign waters in order to

  • assess the situation (part 1)
  • communicate effectively (part 2)
  • decide quickly (part 3)
  • stay focused (part 4)

Follow me on this excursion into murky waters and foggy conditions. Learn with me how to divide your breath and unleash power and effect. January 29th 2019 I will start with part 1

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