What is Gentle Pressure Relentlessly Applied?

change management gpra leadership leading change

At its core, the book is about the phrase: “Gentle Pressure Relentlessly Applied”. In my world, it’s more than a mantra—it’s a process. The first time I can remember hearing the phrase was in the fall of 1993. I was in Decatur, Illinois, at a management workshop being led by a management training company. The phrase instantly resonated with me, and I began using it regularly as a manager. At The Mann Group, we now use the phrase almost weekly in our Mann University program (it’s actually pre-printed on our name tents!). 

As I’ve conducted research for the book, I’ve become increasingly interested in finding the original author. I’ve found several recent uses of the phrase across the internet, including some similar sounding phrases like, “constant gentle pressure,” which is used by restauranteur Danny Meyer of the Union Square Hospitality Group. 

I found a source which indicated the phrase was first used by Ray Eliot, former coach of the University of Illinois football team (1942–1959). He developed some notoriety for an inspiring speech titled, “The Proper State of Mind.” My resource indicated that he used the phrase in this speech. After a Google search, I found the speech, listened to it multiple times, but didn’t hear Coach Eliot mention “Gentle Pressure Relentlessly Applied.” 

I exhausted all my resources, only to determine that there are likely many authors to the phrase. I use it frequently and appreciate it—but I certainly didn’t originate it. As of today, the original source is still a mystery to me.

Gentle Pressure Relentlessly Applied is my business mantra. A sacred utterance. A phrase regularly repeated. The concept kept me focused and confident as I raised my children. It kept me moving forward as I led numerous teams. This concept has helped me be successful with many of my clients. 

At first glance, it seems to need no explanation—and certainly not a whole book about it. But bear with me. This phrase contains elements of action, strategy, temperament, force, patience, and discipline. Each of these elements could be expanded upon in a book (and now they have been). 

Look again at the first word: Gentle. As we undergo any change leadership, remember that people will be involved. And if people are involved, we must remember to be Gentle. After all, nothing creates anxiety, fear, and resentment more than the prospect of change. We must be gentle.

Gentleness shouldn’t be confused with weakness. Being gentle requires extraordinary commitment. Gentleness requires focus, restraint, discipline, and intent. 

Do you remember the first time you held an infant? I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of responsibility. I understood that this human’s life was literally in my hands. I needed to be strong. I had to be accurate. I had to create a safe place. I wanted to do everything correctly and make no mistakes—because I understood the consequences. And because I wanted the child to remain calm and content, I did all of that with as much gentleness as I could muster. 

Yet I also remained strong to this infant. I’d supply him with whatever he needed to thrive, without question. If someone were to threaten him, I’d protect him. If he grew into a child who needed my guidance and support, I’d gladly supply it. 

As I continue to explain Gentle Pressure Relentlessly Applied, you will hear me talk about determination, intensity, force of will, even creating pain and discomfort. Remember where we started: gentle. Remember the first word: gentle. Remember that at your core—as a leader, parent, coach—you’re charged with the care and respect of people. 


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