Clutch:Clarity in the Storm of Surprise

Long gone are the ebb and flow of predictable events. Today’s dynamic context is more like a series of tsunami waves — without an early warning system.

While we’ve all faced hard choices  under a tight deadline,  the pressure soars when an  unanticipated or even unpredictable change occurs. Personally, it’s   the moment you realize the  serious implications of a life-threatening diagnosis. At work, it shows up when an important internal or external factor generates a serious threat. Perhaps a fraud or corruption that could destroy your entire organization. Some people avoid the circumstance, others “crumble.” Some steer well and help their organization respond.

Frame The Current Reality
Recognizing an unexpected current reality and its implications are crucial for managing and leading effectively. Whether you acknowledge the problem, when and how you respond  can determine the success or failure of your enterprise. Paul Sullivan’s new book, “Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t” tackles this topic.

 Sullivan differentiates  the commonly used expression of “clutch” from an exciting moment in sports that wins the game to “a precisely executed series of plays.” He explains it includes a mental component. And, names five common  traits of people who demonstrate clutch: “focus, discipline, adaptability, being present and a mix of entrepreneurial desire and fear.”  According to Sullivan, avoiding the traps of leaders who choke means taking responsibility for action, no overthinking and no overconfidence when stability resumes.

Getting Past Self
When crises present, there’s no expectation any one leader has mystical visions of the right course of action. But, it is possible to carefully execute processes that guide tough decisions. Too frequently the interplay of politics, ego or pride can distract from the optimal choice. Thinking about your thinking (meta-cognition), might be an important step to take right now. 

 Sullivan (and others) suggest a relative accuracy in framing the problem, a response before opportunity cost becomes overwhelming, and a dispassionate approach are all factors in a recipe for great management. We know many, both non- and for-profits, that have navigated tremendous financial woes as markets change dramatically and much of forecasting fails. Agility is one of the new qualifications for survival.

 The litmus for you and me is a calculated and composed response in a dramatically new context. Anticipate the unexpected and be ready to engage your “clutch.”

-Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also a W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. For more information, see:

 -The image above is Hiroshige. The Great Wave off Kanagawa (1823-29).

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: