There’s a leadership maxim that often gets circulated among the Navy SEALS. It’s a piece of simple advice that helps them whenever they find themselves amid chaotic situations, even when they’re out there in the front line fighting a war. The mantra is: Calm is contagious.
The key lesson that they’re taught in military training is that if they as captains, as officers, as leaders keep it together, everyone else will keep it together. And if they lose it, the troops under them will lose it too. In other words, if you keep your head amidst the chaos, you keep your head.
Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in his journal, “If then it’s not that the things you pursue or avoid are coming at you, but rather that you in a sense are seeking them out, at least try to keep your judgment of them steady, and they too will remain calm and you won’t be seen chasing after or fleeing from them.”
When all hell breaks loose and when uncertainty reigns the day, people start freaking out. And it’s during those times that they look up to their leader for guidance. If the person in charge is calm, then that calm infects others as well. This is essentially what an effective leader does — they become an embodiment of calm and in doing so, they inspire others and instill calm in them by example, not by force.
As the Zen Master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh said, “When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.”
Calmness is strength. The only way to not make bad situations worse is to keep calm and carry on. As Ryan Holiday guides in The Daily Stoic, “That’s who you want to be, whatever your line of work: the casual, relaxed person in every situation who tells everyone else to take a breath and not to worry. Because you’ve got this. Don’t be the agitator, the paranoid, the worrier, or the irrational. Be the calm, not the liability.”