Updated: Aug 14, 2020
At the beginning of my career, I was reviewing a dam emergency action plan in which the author identified that the first step during an incident was to remain clam (sic). Obviously, the author intended for the first step in the incident response to be “remain calm.” However, my colleague and I both found great humor in the fact that the author made the typo and that it specifically called for the plan implementer to remain calm, as if had it not people would immediately panic.
Despite my thought that remaining calm should come naturally, this simply is not the case for all people. I never thought that the experience of reviewing this plan would be an epoch time in my life, but nearly 20 years later, I still remember the enjoyment we derived from the typo. The humor is not only reflected on as a happy moment, but the laughter pops into my head every time I experience mounting stress and anxiety in a critical incident. As the tension rises and I begin to see panic in others, I experience a tranquil laugh as I remember to remain clam! (sic)
As a leader, it is of the utmost importance to not only remain calm in the face of adversity, but to demonstrate coolness under pressure. You need to show those that depend on you that you can be relied upon to be analytical and reasonable when the situation seems dire. United States Marine Corps General James “Mad Dog” Mattis once stated, “The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.” He is implying that the best weapons you have as a leader are your ability to remain calm, utilize good judgement and reasoning, and lead the way through adversity.
All too often, I have seen toxic leaders fail in their endeavor to remain calm in response to the emergency and instead exhibit rash emotion and reaction. We see toxic leaders making hasty decisions, or caving to political pressure and emotional distress. We see poor decisions being made because the toxic leader is afraid to speak truth to power, then decisions that violate best practices are made to cater to the desires of the inexperienced supervisor or elected official. Another common error is when a poor leader reacts emotionally to the stimulus instead of utilizing deductive reasoning. We also see such leaders not taking a moment to take a breath and gather the necessary information before making the crucial decision. These toxic leadership actions can be extremely frustrating for the people subjected to them and can even be devastating to the jurisdictions or organizations that are impacted by the incident and the decision-maker.
Remember that a leader is mindful and self-aware. The leader knows when they are under stress and experiencing anxiety. The leader can then tell themselves to remain clam (sic), chuckle, and then remain calm, cool, and collected. The leader should take care to make deliberate, conscious, and strategic decisions that will enable the team to succeed, even in the face of overwhelming burden and hardship.