Calm Under Pressure

I believe people’s true colors are revealed when they find themselves under real pressure. I once watched a grown man on a boat in heavy seas, who was in a full-on panic, push a small child out of the way to get himself to safety. Another time, I stood in disbelief as a small argument between two people in a restaurant turned to anger which then morphed into screaming and foul language and eventually escalated to pushing and shoving, ultimately dissolving into a full-scale riot with others joining in the fight.

If you watched the WWII movie, Greyhound, with Tom Hanks, you’ve seen a true story about how a different kind of person handles real pressure in a highly volatile and nail-biting war zone. Navy commander, Ernest Krause, on his very first wartime mission must lead an Allied convoy of 37 ships across the Atlantic through an area known as the “Black Pit,” so named because it was a 3-day expanse where there could be no air cover for protection from German U-boats. Krause was responsible for thousands of lives, millions of dollars worth of equipment, and potentially our ability to win the war. He plays non-stop cat and mouse with submarines in enemy-infested open seas for 48 hours straight without sleeping… all while keeping his men calm and focused, keeping the ship functional, and making hair-raising, split-second decisions to outsmart the enemy. He was the epitome of calm under pressure.

In business, the ability to remain calm under pressure and to de-escalate drama is a powerful skill. You become a true leader and an employee worth fighting for if you possess the ability to focus your energy forward toward an action or a solution in the midst of chaos, fear, or doubt. If you know how to de-escalate angry clients, feuding team members, or an irate boss, you are someone everyone looks to for leadership.

On the contrary, if you excite easily, panic unnecessarily, speak fearfully, worry incessantly, lash out at people who’ve wronged you, and speak negatively about the future, you are just flat not as valuable to a team and certainly not leadership material.

In March, when COVID-19 hit, my speaking, training, and coaching schedule was completely (and I mean 100% completely) wiped out for the remainder of 2020. All of my projected income disappeared overnight. But, we remained calm—calm under pressure. Oh, we swayed on some wobbly knees for a bit after the initial shock, but then we asked ourselves one of my favorite questions, “What does this hard thing make possible?” The answer has been “A LOT!”

This week, ask yourself honestly, “How do I react under real pressure? Do I tend to escalate or de-escalate drama, negativity, and panic? What do I need to learn and practice to become known as someone who is calm under pressure and has the ability to bring an emotionally-heightened situation down a couple of notches?”

If you’re interested in advancing your career or leading your team to greatness, you must learn and practice this skill. COVID-19 will be a distant memory one day, but another “crisis” will surely take its place. We may not have submarines to outsmart, but we will have a steady stream of events, people, and experiences that will give us plenty of practice and test our ability to remain calm and de-escalate the pressure. It’s a work skill and life skill that will serve us all (and those who look to us for guidance) very well.

“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under great pressure.”
~ Peter Marshall