Composure is a behavior that people respond to instantly. Put any group under pressure and you will be able to assess most people’s level of composure in a few short minutes. Sometimes people will mentally “check out” and wait for others to handle the challenging situation for them. Other times they will “freak out” and have an overly emotional reaction. Regardless of the response, any indication of losing one’s composure directly impacts one’s ability to influence others. Conversely, individuals displaying a high degree of composure under pressure are naturally attractive. We seem drawn to follow those that project a calm, cool, self-assuredness. Given this phenomena, and that leadership is about inspiring others through our action and example, it makes sense that a leader should work to hone their composure. I am not talking about developing arrogant, egotistical, or narcissistic behavior that suggests “nothing rattles me!” Instead, I am talking about establishing a powerful presence that, regardless of the pressure leaders find themselves under, they inspire optimism and high-performance from self and others.
Think about your own experiences. Have you ever worked for a leader who frequently lost his or her composure? Ever work for a “screamer” before? Did you trust him or her? Likely not. As a result, you probably second guessed his or her decision and looked for leadership from others. The opposite is likely true if you’ve worked for a leader who exhibited a composed presence. She probably made you feel safe. She didn’t get rattled by challenging situations. She remained “cool under pressure” and, hence, you respected her judgement. By providing level-headed direction, she created trust. Composed persons will face challenges head on because they are not inhibited by paralyzing emotion like fear. When we “feel” this strength within them, it becomes contagious, and we start to believe we can achieve success also. Composed leaders breed confidence in others.
Many believe composure is something that you are either born with or you are not; a personality trait. This is completely false. It is important to understand that composure is not an innate gift that enables an absence of fear in high-pressure situations, but rather the mindful management of that fear. We can have control over how we feel about any given experience. While it may not appear this way sometimes, with increased self-awareness and practice, we can learn to choose our personal beliefs, thus learning to develop greater composure.
Another common misconception is that the only way to develop composure is by experiencing challenging situations. Overcoming challenging “crucible” experiences undoubtedly grows our self-confidence and, hence, increases our likelihood of exhibiting greater composure in future situations. Life is constantly knocking us off balance and gives us ample opportunity to practice composure in everyday life as well. There’s the child at home that won’t get his shoes on to leave the house; the unavoidable traffic that makes us late to our meeting; or the co-worker who always knows exactly how to get under our skin. These are examples of common annoyances that can cause us to lose our patience, perspective, and ultimately our presence. Yet, if you consistently practice composure in these routine situations, you will be well prepared to exhibit the calm self-assuredness that inspires others when the next crucible moment presents itself.
So the natural question then is, how do we practice greater composure in our daily lives so that we can prepare ourselves for the challenging moments that we may face? Here are a few best practices to consider:
1. Don’t take it so personally – Composed leaders know not to take things so personally when situations don’t go their way. As the saying goes…Sh*t happens! Circumstances don’t always play out logically because our environment is complex and unpredictable. If we take things personally, we will begin to behave defensively. Instead, learn to let go of what is beyond your control. Leaders understand that control is an illusion. Some leaders find that adopting a mantra to remind us of this fundamental truth to be helpful. Timeless sayings like “Que Sera, Sera” and “Everything happens for a reason” can be helpful in regaining perspective and releasing ourselves from blame. The result is often a more composed self that is ready to rationally tackle the problem at hand.
2. Fake it until you make it – The pressure is on and you can feel the anxiety permeate the team as the reality of the challenge sets in. All eyes are on you for answers, yet you have no idea what to do next! No worries, countless successful leaders have been in your shoes before. What did they do? They pretended they had a clue. Often what is most needed in these situations is a sense of optimism and reassurance that everything will be ok. You must be the energy that is missing in your team. While you may not have a tangible next step figured out yet, you can provide a confidence that, in working together, the team will figure it out.
3. Stand taller, breathe deeply, speak more slowly, smile more – The body and the mind are closely connected. If you change little things about how you hold yourself in physical space, it can change the way you think and how you experience the world. For instance, mindfully standing taller with your chest higher and your shoulders back will cause your voice to deepen and your words to have greater gravity. Composed leaders also practice breathing deeply into their belly vs. allowing short, chest high, breaths which promote anxiousness. Composed leaders also mindfully speak a little slower, as they don’t have a need to rush to their conclusion or worry about losing their train of thought. Finally, composed leaders smile in the face of adversity, and, in doing so, project their confidence and optimism onto others. Research supports that smiling invites connection and increases a leader’s influence.
4. Crush negative self-talk in the moment – It’s not just you. We all have that voice in our head that talks to us sometimes. Most annoyingly, it shows up most often right at the moment when we are assessing whether or not we can do something challenging. We hear things like “that will never work,” or “what were they thinking putting me in charge of this task?” That voice in our head is constantly telling us we are not good enough. Why does this happen? Well, that’s your ego talking and it’s very protective of you. If we try and fail, our ego bears the brunt of that pain and it tends to not like that very much. So it works hard to keep itself in a comfortable and risk free environment.
Yet, leaders operate with a growth mindset and recognize that risk and learning through failure are all part of increasing one’s confidence and composure. Thus, leaders crush negative self-talk in the moment, before it negatively influences them. A powerful way to do this is by simply asking the question “where did I learn this thinking?” Often, we have learned these self-sabotaging beliefs from someone in our lives or from a negative experience. When we pause to question if that belief is really true, we realize that this is not the case or that we are allowing our past to unfairly dictate our future possibilities. You are not the person you were just yesterday, so imagine how much you’ve grown in five years. Let go of those old stories and acknowledge your current strengths and abilities.
This post is a sample chapter from my new eBook “ACTIONABLE! Leadership: Develop Your Inspirational Ability, Motivate Teams, & Achieve Extraordinary Results.” Claim your free copy by following the below link and start taking action towards meeting your full leadership potential.