Success Under Stress: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: March 7th, 2013 by bobmorris

Success Under StressSuccess Under Stress: Powerful Tools for Staying Calm, Confident, and Productive When the Pressure’s On
Sharon Melnick
AMACOM (2013)

How to avoid or overcome self-defeating barriers to success…including those that are self-imposed

Walt Kelly’s possum, Pogo, once observed, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Sometimes that’s true but there are also situations when others (perhaps a family member or friend) creates stress that upsets us, weakens our self-confidence, and/or reduces our productivity. What we have in this volume is everything that Sharon Melnick has learned about how to avoid or overcome these barriers to success…in fact, the tools she recommends can even help us to achieve success (however defined) despite whatever stress under which we may find ourselves.

In this context, I am reminded of the key insight in Ernest Becker’s book, Denial of Death: No one can deny physical death but there is another form of death that we can deny…that which occurs when we be come wholly preoccupied with fulfilling others’ expectations of us. Sources of stress can be both internal and external. Whatever the given source, if we do not manage the stress, it will manage us. What Melnick offers is a “toolbox” filled with all manner of devices by which to remain calm, confident, and productive when “the pressure’s On’ and, in fact, many people are most productive when under stress. She views stress as a source of energy that can enable either creation or destruction.

I am especially impressed by her skillful use of several reader-friendly devices that include self-diagnostic and situation-diagnostic exercises, lists of key questions or issues to consider, “Figures,” “Charts,” and end-of-chapter “Points to Remember” sections. These devices help to facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key material later.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Melnick’s coverage:

o Are You on the Survival Under Stress Cycle? (Pages 12-18)
o Come to Work on Your Own Terms (34-41)
o The On Button and the Off Button, and, Your Stress Response (52-56)
o From “Everything Is Urgent” to “Prioritize Among Priorities” (75-93)
o From Effort to Efficiency (101-107)
Note: This distinction reminds me of one of my favorite Peter Drucker observations, “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
o How We Self-Impose Stress (113-120
o Go Direct! (122-128)
o Quick Fixes for Anxiety and Doubt (132-136)
o [How to] Move Past Doubts That Keep You Stuck (143-147)
o [How to] Free Yourself from the Pressures of Perfectionism (150-156)
o How Not to React: The “Stories” Log (163-172)
o Interacting with Difficult People (172-178)
o Lead with Generosity to Create a Bigger Game (203-205)
o The 12 Resilience Strategies for Success Under Stress (221-222)

Some of the most valuable material is provided in Chapters 11 as Melnick provides a thorough explanation of how to balance one’s work and life, and, in Chapter 12 as she provides a “Call to Action” to help supervisors: another thorough explanation, in this instance of how to develop in their direct reports a much stronger sense of personal accountability. She is a staunch advocate of what she characterizes as a “50% Culture,” one in which everyone follows the 50% Rule: “Be impeccable for your 50%” of the given initiative.

I realize that no brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of material that Sharon Melnick provides in this volume but I hope that I have at least suggested why I think so highly of it. Also, I hope that those who read this commentary will be better prepared to determine whether or not they wish to read the book and, in that event, will have at least some idea of how the mastery of powerful tools will enable them to stay calm, remain confident, and be productive whenever the pressure’s on.

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