Leaders Stay Calm
Randy Wolken, President & CEO

It’s rather easy to get worked up as a leader. The project is not going as planned. Individuals are not performing as expected. The product is not selling as desired. There are plenty of reasons to get upset each day, however doing so usually doesn’t result in any good.

This week we celebrated Presidents’ Day and I am watching the Presidents at War series on the History Channel. It offers a fascinating collection of stories that eight of our former Presidents experienced during World War II. Most of the stories involved life-threatening events. Historians on the program point to how such events helped prepare them for their leadership roles later as Presidents. Staying calm in the face of events is a crucial trait for any leadership role.

While at West Point I learned a lot about one of the featured leaders — Dwight D. Eisenhower. The son of a milkman, he rose to command the D-Day Landing in Normandy in 1944. Two and a half years before the landing, he was nearing retirement when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. He had never commanded in combat before the war began. Over the ensuing two years, he was tested many times. He failed. He learned. He overcame adversity. Through it all, he was known for his calm demeanor during the most stressful times.

As I watched the show, I thought of many examples of calm leaders who I served with in the military. Many of them were combat veterans. They had learned how to keep their cool in the face of situations with very dire circumstances. It showed. I respected it. I also learned from it and modeled their behavior. Staying calm in the face of unexpected outcomes is a leadership trait I now look for in those I hire and those I work with. We all know that difficulties are on the horizon. How we respond is important to our success.

In my own leadership experiences, I have learned that calmness is the key to getting my team to believe in themselves and our mission. Sure, there are times to express a heightened sense of urgency. Sure, there are times to let my frustration show and to push for immediate action. But, the more under control I am, the more successful I have been. It encourages others to maintain their sense of control when their own emotions are running high. It allows us to get to the source of the concern without letting it get personal.

How do you respond to unexpected outcomes? Do you stay calm in the face of challenging situations? Do you encourage others to stay calm when situations become heated? Important questions for us to consider. How we calmly respond will determine the outcomes in these important situations.