Rudyard Kipling’s great poem If starts with these two lines:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
… and finishes with these:
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
There is something special about a person who remains calm under even the most stressful of situations. These leaders enable others to step back and make good decisions, when emotions and panic have removed others’ ability to do so. At work, we’ve all been exposed to managers who respond to challenges with a shotgun approach of small micro-managed tasks – as if somehow doing a bunch of things in a hurry will solve the problems. It’s easy to confuse activity with progress, particularly in times of trouble.
On the other side of the coin, many of us know or work with people who respond more constructively. Stress seems to bring focus and calm that drives effective response and, more importantly, frees those around them to focus as well.
Hard times are hard enough given the circumstances. Panic makes it worse. This does not mean it’s healthy to ignore your emotions. Your brain is telling you something if you’re frightened, sad, or angry. You should listen. But, humans are created to not just think and feel, but to be able to think about how they think and feel. Failure to use that ability, especially in times of stress, renders us ineffective relative to our full potential.
When problems arise, take time to understand the issues, recognize how you are feeling about it, and then decide how to respond.