One of the most underrated characteristics of leadership is the ability to stay calm in any situation. When things become tense, hectic, or heated, many people will mirror those around them and become agitated, frantic, or angry. The ability to stay calm in these situations is critical to high performance leadership.

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Being calm while others are losing their heads gives you an advantage and increases your chances of making good decisions. Remaining calm keeps cortisol from flooding your brain and short-circuiting your critical thinking skills. Keeping the cortisol out allows you to do a better job forecasting consequences of different choices you have in front of you, weighing their potential benefits and consequences. Additionally, you can use these moments of calmness to think about how to say what you need to communicate. No matter the situation, when things get dicey and people get agitated and frantic, they are in need of the calm leader who can help them see things more clearly.

Staying calm is like any other behavior, it is not innate, it is learned through practice. Training your body to react differently to stressful situations is not easy. We suggest starting in less stressful, but more predictable situations — moments where you know you tend to lose some of your calm. As you prepare to enter these moments, visualize the stress happening and how you hope to respond. Imagine your breathing slowing down, your heartbeat staying steady, and your voice being calm and authoritative. Rehearse this scenario in your head several times. Give yourself a mantra to associate with this visualization — “calm and composed.” Repeat the mantra in the situation to help you link back to your visualization.

Continue to practice being calm, pushing yourself into more and more predictably stressful situations and you will find yourself increasingly able to maintain calm in unpredictable situations. And that, is when leadership really shines.

Leadership is much more an art, a belief, a condition of the heart, than a set of things to do. The visible signs of artful leadership are expressed, ultimately, in its practice.

— Max DePree

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