Executive Presence: How to Stay Calm in the Midst of Chaos

Executive Presence: How to Stay Calm in the Midst of Chaos

Karin Hurt and David Dye, Let’s Grow Leaders 

Manage Your Executive Presence by Showing Up Excited, Not Excitable 

The proverbial stuff had just hit the fan. We were stressed for “Mark” a Senior VP of customer service.

“Mark, are you okay? Are you stressed? What needs to happen next?”

He smiled, “I don’t get stressed. There’s no use in that. But as it turns out I’m a stress carrier.”

In humor lies the truth.

Mark had mastered the art of managing his stress while maintaining his executive presence, but his team was flustered.

He had what we call “excited without being excitable” nailed.  Deeply passionate about the work, nothing appeared to rattle him.

He approached this new challenge as if he’d seen it a thousand times before. His actions were values-based, consistent, deliberate, and timely.

And yet he knew that his calm words didn’t always have a calming effect on his team.

In fact, sometimes, the calmer he got, the wilder his VPs became– as if to make up for his lack of stress and outward frustration.

Stress was still rolling downhill, even though Mark had tried to stop it.

Excited Energizes, Excitable Freaks People Out 

In almost every company we work with, we’ve noticed a consistent pattern– things are remarkably calmer on the executive “floor.” (Even if it’s not a real floor these days).

The stakes are higher, the decisions more vital. These folks have farther to fall, and yet when the going gets tough, (for the execs who’ve mastered executive presence) the volume doesn’t amplify.

Your team longs for calm in you– and in them.

How to Encourage Excited vs. Excitable 

So how do you grow leaders who emulate calm, in a frenetic context?

  1. Acknowledge Reality 

More than anything your team needs to know you get it. Otherwise, they think your head is in the sand. When you calmly state the issue and the implications, your team gets to exhale. They’ll move from trying to prove that the fire is real, to trying to figure out how to extinguish it.

  1. Stay Consistently True to Your Values

Great leaders stay true to their values when the going gets tough. If “customer service is our most important thing” has been your rallying cry and you start short-cutting when budget (or boss) pressures loom, your team will be confused at best. Don’t change course. Instead ask, how do maintain our commitment to a great customer experience with these new parameters?

  1. Encourage Innovation and Creative Problem Solving

Chances are that someone is sitting on an idea that is so crazy it might just work. Give them an opportunity to share. Then help them calm down, ask great questions, and consider how they could best execute.

  1. Use Failure as Learning

When the going gets tough, our tolerance for failing decreases. And, even in many well-intentioned leaders, it fully disappears. Ironically, it’s when times are tough that we need to fail gracefully, learn, and move on. Compounding setbacks take their toll on an already stressed team and it can easy to stop trying anything new.

  1. Stay Real

When the going gets really tough, your team wants the truth. Share what you can and help them to make informed decisions.

Stay excited. Resist excitable–for you and your team.

Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. They will be leading the upcoming Executive Ready: Executive Presence program for Mountain West Credit Union Association.  They’re the founders of Let’s Grow Leaders, and international leadership development firm and the authors of five books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates.