It occurs to me that character is a bit like orange juice. You never really know what it’s like until it’s squeezed.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a sporting fanatic, exactly, but I did watch half of the England football game on Friday, and most of Federer’s first-round Wimbledon match on Monday, so actually know what Jim White’s talking about in this Telegraph article about how Capello and Federer reacted under pressure.
When you’re under pressure, as David Stroud said in his sermon on Sunday, that’s when your character is really tested; that’s when we find out what you’re really like. When I’m under pressure I close off to other people. I put my head down – both literally and metaphorically – focus on what has to be done, and just start methodically plowing through it.
That’s fine if you’re a hermit. It’s OK if you’re working independently. It’s not much use if you’re leading a team. It’s something I need to work on, and I’ll come back to that in a minute, but Capello basically did the same thing.
Rooney, Capello’s best and only hope, was fading before his eyes. And [the England manager] appeared to have lost all notion of how he might resolve the problem.
This lack of conviction, of ideas and of hope projected itself onto the field, and the whole team descended into a sluggish, lack-lustre performance, managing not to concede any goals, but failing to score any either.
Roger Federer, defending his title as champion of Wimbledon, gave his fans an even greater scare on Monday afternoon. In the very first game on Centre Court, he nearly lost to Alejandro Falla – an almost complete unknown (OK, so he’s ranked 65th in the world, but did you know his name before Monday?). I joined the viewers just as Falla was about to put Federer 2 sets down, and got very little work done for the rest of the 3-hour match!
That Federer eventually won was due in large part to his skill, but a hugely significant factor was his character. When he was losing, badly, under huge pressure, in the hot sun, with the eyes of the world on him, he didn’t crack. Rather than going to pieces, he dug in and found it within himself to believe that he could still win this, that all was not lost. Yes, he only had himself to lead, but he led himself to victory when he could have allowed himself to be toppled.
What are you like under pressure? What happens when you’re squeezed? If you don’t like what you see, the time to fix it is now, when the pressure’s off and you’ve got time to take a look at what your reactions reveal about your inner self.
As I said, when I’m under pressure, I shut out people, keep a very tight focus, triage anything that’s not urgent, and just tunnel through.
What does this reveal?
On the positive side, it shows that I am able to assess which tasks are priorities and which can be put aside till a later date. It shows that I am capable of working hard, efficiently and determinedly, of keeping my eye on the goal and of directing my energy to the place it is needed.
On the negative side, it reveals that I’m not so good with people – I am not very patient when it comes to teaching them things, and I am not good at trusting them to do tasks which I am capable of. Why would I not delegate when there are people around willing to help?
The really ugly side of it is that deep down I like the recognition when I’ve single-handedly pulled something off. I like feeling that I can do something, that it couldn’t have happened without me. And when it comes to delegating, I think I can probably do the job better (and if I’m wrong about that, well, I’d rather not know).
So there you have it, deep down, my character is flawed with pride (and its twin sister insecurity). I need to work on that. I need to confess it to God, to recognise it when I see it in less pressurised moments, and to change my thought-patterns and habits to prevent it from taking a foothold. How will I ever lead a team if I can’t trust people to do anything as well as me, or if I ignore them as soon as the crisis hits?
What character traits do you see when you’re under pressure? Recognise and celebrate the good ones, and identify and take steps towards eliminating the bad ones.
If you don’t, then the next time you’re squeezed, instead of producing nutritious and delicious fruit juice you will (to paraphrase an old, and very silly, joke), just give a little whine (wine…get it?!).