Leadership Calm

Flying on Airplane.jpg

These days it seems a great deal of my time is spent helping clients deal with the stress of the events of the current world. Between speed and access of opinion, lack of differentiation between quantity and quality of information, dying civility, the dismal state of our media, political deadlock and oh yeah, something called the economy, too many are more frequently dealing with eruptions of crisis.

We have become a society where shrill has over-powered common sense and truth matters less than volume. The loudest voice seems to be the winning strategy, no matter what the message. It's tough not to behave in like fashion. The problem is this is a zero sum game. I react with intensity, more than matching the perceived threat, you come back at me, and we are off and running.

Where this sad state began is hard to tell, but what is clear is that it has become deeply ingrained in our cultural patterning and that is rarely good. Oh it's good for attention, power grabs and retaliation, but not good for a sustainable way of co-existing. I have been influenced by a Gallup survey of "Why we follow leaders" which found people positively respond to those who create frames of trust, hope, compassion and stability. This last one was a bit of a surprise, and as a consequence has me occasionally directing during challenging times, "Everyone please. Just calm the f**k down!"

I fly a lot. And sometimes I fly through really bad weather. As I hear the groans, gasps and prayers of those around me, I know that only one question matters to all of us in that moment, "Will it be OK?". I used to worry, holding onto my seat and muttering upward. But now I do one thing, and one thing only. I look for the flight attendants. If they seem relaxed, calmly checking their watch, sitting quietly without a care in the world, I relax...no matter what my cabin mates are screaming. If, however, the flight attendants look concerned, I get very worried. I take my lead from them.

Leaders are the flight attendants of their organization. They are almost always scrutinized by someone in every moment of every day...whether they want it or not. I am convinced that what people notice most, especially during perceived crisis is the response. The response is the cue that guides others on their fear or anger triggers. The response is the dial that either turns up or down the negative emotional temperature of others. It is the response, even more than the so-called "reality", that answers the question, "Will it be OK?"

As I told one president, who was complaining about the drama on his board, "Feelings are fine. Just don't be a co-producer of the play. Embers are everywhere. The mark of your leadership will be whether you fan them."