On Leadership: Eight Ways to Stay Calm in the Midst of Chaos



When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.

~ John F. Kennedy

You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.

~ Rahm Emanuel

There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.

~ Henry Kissinger

Maybe because it’s Black Friday, but my thoughts turn to chaos and how you can remain calm, cool, and collected when crisis hits.  As business leaders, we are constantly faced with challenges.  I smile at the Henry Kissinger quote above.  It’s so true, isn’t it?

I recently discovered The Build Network, sponsored and produced by Inc. magazine.  Build is an online / print resource for mid-size business leaders to help scale their business.  You can sign up to be a member at www.thebuildnetwork.com.  I’m still working my way through the resources, but I find the editors have done a great job of “providing actionable ideas for building teams, honing leadership, and driving innovation.”

One article on Build focused on eight ways to stay calm in the midst of chaos, which I thought would be a great topic for today.  The following are the eight ways to stay calm and my summary of the key principles taught:

  1. Maintain Your Routine.  You will have to address the crisis at hand, but work it into your routine.  If you abandon your others duties you are likely to add to the chaos.
  2. Take a Break. The point here is to step away from the crisis to maintain your objectivity.  Don’t let emotion control your response.  You need to maintain clarity in order to see how to settle things down.
  3. Slow Down and Breathe.  There is a saying among race car drivers: slow in the cockpit equals fast on the track. If you act too quickly, you may make carless mistakes.  Help everyone stay steady and relaxed to help solve the problem.
  4. Identify and Manage Your Stress Points.  Practice self-awareness so you don’t ever lose control.  The team looks to you to be the island of stability amidst the chaos.
  5. Call For a Timeout. Bring the team together to calmly look at the situation without emotion.  Tip: Bring in pizza and cookies to help get everyone’s attention.
  6. Keep Perspective. Assess the impact to the overall business and isolate the problem to those who are affected.  Let the rest of the company focus on their regular work.
  7. Control What You Can Control. Some issues are too big to handle.  Focus on and solve the issues you can control so you can free up mental and physical energy for the bigger problems.
  8. Smile.  Attitude is half the battle in a crisis situation.  You can maintain the seriousness of the situation, but still smile in a comforting manner to those involved.

A great example of actionable ideas from Build.  Check out the full article here.

You will likely face a significant crisis or two in your career.  I encourage you to prepare for that day by visualizing yourself in the midst of the chaos and how you will respond using their principles above as a guide.  Don’t wait until the crisis hits to figure out your leadership response.

Choose to be calm in the midst of a crisis.  Choose greatness.


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