How do you react in extreme situations? Perhaps more importantly, how do your staff see you react under stress.
As a leader, your reaction to stress is more contagious than omicron.
When the jet catches fire / the market crashes 10% / a deadline approaches, your staff are all subconsciously looking for signals that they are safe. It is YOU who gives them those signals.
My jet has only caught fire once, and it was a bit of a ‘non-event’. I had just returned to base from a live bombing exercise with army special forces, and after I shutdown, the engine caught fire. All ejection seat aircraft have a checklist procedure called ‘Emergency Egress’, which is the fastest way to untangle yourself from the many straps and connectors which ‘plug’ you into the jet. It also makes the ejection seat safe: enabling you to then exit the cockpit without accidentally launching the rocket powered seat underneath you (resulting in certain death).
‘Emergency Egress’ is one of many ‘boldface’ checklist procedures; written in bold font indicating that it must be applied immediately and from memory. So, in my case, I performed the Emergency Egress procedure and walked away safely. Like a thousand times before, my stress level was increased, but I calmly performed the required actions. Calmly, because I had practiced performing the actions calmly. I had rehearsed the actions calmly. I had been required to recite the actions calmly in a thousand squadron morning briefs.
Being calm under stress requires deliberate practice.
There were many, many other times in my 15 year Air Force career where I found myself in a dangerous situation. From hypoxia (lack of oxygen), to engine failures, to running dangerously low on fuel. The military places its soldiers, sailors and airmen in situations which, if not handled correctly, will result in injury or death, and as a result, we spend hundreds of hours rehearsing our response to time critical and dangerous situations.
As the captain of an airliner, I know that my reactions to emergency situations will cause a response in my team. Airlines deliberately place their pilots in stressful situations every few months. They place them in a simulator, fail systems, give them time critical problems to solve, and assess their response. Our ability to retain our license depends on, in part, our ability to perform effectively under pressure. Giving our team confidence that we are going to be OK is critically important to enable creative problem solving and effective communication.
So what does all this mean to you? Well, ask yourself how well you and your team performs under stress. If you find that you are running around your workplace, speaking to others in a raised voice, and generally becoming irritable, then you will be spreading fear amongst your team. To solve this, rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse. Visualise remaining calm. Be the pillar of strength that your team needs, thereby reducing their stress levels.
High performance teams perform well under stress.
When YOUR jet catches fire, remain calm and perform the boldface.