As a leader of a fast-growth company or startup, you will find many things working against progress.

It could be money, a weak talent pool, shifts in the marketplace, a big announcement from a competitor, delays in product development, or a mishap in customer service. The list goes on and on.

However, an issue that isn’t unique to companies but seems to be a frequent visitor to the startup & fast-growth world is pressure.


This amazing impediment to growth occurs when employees move from eustress (also known as “good stress”: a constructive form of tension that improves performance) to distress (a destructive form tension resulting in poor performance).

In my experience, eustress moves to distress with the assistance of poor interpersonal interactions. As the stakes are raised and the challenges become more daunting, employees can fear the worst. Their self-esteem can lower, they worry that they aren’t good enough to achieve the goal. This can bring an individual into defense mode: sabotaging initiatives or teammates in order to be right.

Distress and the poor interpersonal interactions which create it can be mitigated through a deliberate focus on the big picture, and how individual goals play into the whole. Humor also helps.

Humor as an Antidote

As a leader, it is imperative for me to employ humor as a function of being mindful.

Almost always when I have the presence of mind to stop and consider the tension that has built in an interpersonal interaction, having the self-awareness to remember the unavoidable absurdity of life is an incredibly effective tool.

Humor almost always diffuses the type of tension that tears companies apart. I therefore like to make myself the willful target of humor to serve a dual purpose: to create levity and also set an example that it’s OK to be foolish, and it’s OK to be imperfect. In this way making light of oneself has the effect of diffusing tension and encouraging others to take risks.

Most leaders I know are afraid of looking weak, and as a result they are never self-deprecating or allow themselves to be the butt of their own jokes. The leaders with enough self-confidence to do so, stand to benefit tremendously.

In what ways do you deal with the stresses and pressures of startup life? Let me know in the comments below and we’ll talk it out.