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Leadership

The Power of Calm

Equanimity is an underdiscussed key to success.

Nevit Dilmen, CC 3.0
Source: Nevit Dilmen, CC 3.0

We all know that staying calm is usually helpful but it's easier said than done. This short-short story may help keep calm's primacy top-of-mind.

Smoke entered the first-grade class's window. The alarm sounded and the teacher told the children to line up. One child started crying and classmate Nina gave him a hug and said, "It'll be okay," took his hand, and walked him to the line.

In junior high school, a teacher accused Nina of copying sentences in her term paper from the Internet--Three of the sentences were more sophisticated than even the bright Nina could have written in junior high school. A different child might have angrily denied it or, conversely, broken down into tears of contrition. But Nina calmly admitted she did it because she loved those statements plus one other the teacher hadn't caught but that all the rest of the work was her own and she invited the teacher to check. Nina concluded by saying that she wished she had been honest and promised not to do it again. The teacher forgave her and, indeed, gained respect for Nina.

As a senior in high school, Nina got pregnant. She calmly reasoned that her parents would "give me hell" so she resisted the instinct to tell them. She calmly told her boyfriend, 'I was wrong when I said I thought it was "safe time" but in the future, you'll need to wear a condom and I'll evaluate whether I should go on some female birth control. I'm way too young too have a baby, I'll go to Planned Parenthood and have the abortion. Would you come with me to give me support?" The boy agreed and their relationship, instead of ending as such events often trigger, blossomed further.

When it was time to head to college, Nina's equanimity continued: "Yes, let's plan to see each other during vacations but it's too early for us to stay monogamous. So let's both agree to date and reassess as time goes on."

In college, Nina ran for student government, demonstrating her enthusiastic but calm and common-sense demeanor. She became one of the student senate's most respected members and, as a senior, became Senate Majority Leader.

After graduation, Nina took a job at Procter and Gamble. She had been offered more lucrative offers with a better job title in cities she found more attractive than Cincinnati but opted to be a management trainee in that respected company.

At work meetings, often one management trainee would try to outshine the other, frequently interrupting. Nina would typically sit back and listen and when they had their say, she'd calmly ask a question, for example, "Having listened to what John, Pedro, and Sarah said, I'm wondering if it might be a good idea to....." After completing the management training position without bombast or playing politics, Nina got the most sought-after next position: project lead in the new-products division.

Nina wanted to marry and carefully created her profile on dating websites and asked respected friends to set her up, knowing they'd carefully vet. It turned out however, that she met her husband at work. Although aware of the risks of dating a co-worker, having gotten to know him day-in-and-day out convinced her that he was a terrific guy and, besides, she was quite attracted to him and they fell in love. She was, however, careful to keep the relationship private until they announced their engagement.

When, as in all couples, she and her husband disagreed, her equanimity allowed her to remain in common-sense inquiry mode rather than devolve into an inflammatory, escalating, blaming fight And not surprisingly, as a parent, Nina transmitted her calmness under stress to her kids. When her children were defiant or fighting with each other, Nina showed a preternatural ability to stay calm and guide their kids into problem-solving mode.

At age 50, one night she was watching C-SPAN and noticed that many respected leaders had her demeanor: engaged, even enthusiastic but calm, even in the face of reports of fraud, waste, and abuse. So she decided, to as her volunteer work, to run for school board. Not surprisingly, her leaderly radio, TV and, online videos were key to her victory.

At age 65, Nina was now a vice-president at Toyota, and when the company offered executives an early-retirement incentive, she accepted. With her new-found free time, she decided to run for full-time political office. She went from city-councilperson to mayor of her small city and she retired at age 79, not because she had to but because she felt the city needed younger blood, fresher ideas. Calm and common-sensical to the end.

In retirement, Nina continued to be a model of calm common sense to her few consulting clients, her family, friends, and community. A number of people told her "You're my role-model. I want to be like you." She thereby is ensuring that she will leave a legacy surpassed by few.

The takeaway

Are you as calm as you want to be? If not, is your desire to convey passion driving you to get angry too easily? Are you letting your impulses control you rather than taking a deep breath or three to reflect on the best approach? Are you keeping top-of-mind that calm is usually key to retaining common sense and gaining others' respect?

Of course, remaining calm is much more easily said than done but awareness of its criticality is a start.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia. His new book, his 8th, is The Best of Marty Nemko.

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