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Calm in the Face of Chaos is a Superpower

“IF you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you….”

– IF by Rudyard Kipling


The Pittsburgh Steelers are an incredible example of selecting great leaders. The Steelers have had 3 Head Coaches in the past 50 years. From 1969 to the present: Chuck Knoll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin. Remember, the NFL average tenure is roughly 4 years, meaning the average team has had 12 coaches over the same period. Exactly how successful have they been? The Steelers are tied for #1 in the NFL with 6 Super Bowl wins and rank #2 in Super Bowl appearances at 8. All 3 coaches have contributed to their Super Bowl achievements.

Recently we had the chance to watch Mike Tomlin in action in what might have been the most intense, emotionally-charged situation in the NFL in recent history. I’m guessing that many have viewed the video of the Steelers vs. Browns brawl on Nov 14. The highlight reel of Myles Garrett, the defensive end of the Browns, using a helmet like a sledgehammer to hit Mark Rudolph, the Steelers quarterback, on top of his helmetless head, seems to run on an endless loop on every TV channel.

While most viewers focused on the players, I studied the leaders – specifically Mike Tomlin. If you watch closely in this next video, you can see the emotional intensity and underlying rage in his eyes, yet he remains calm and in control. In the video below, he communicates clearly, keeping his hand gestures to a minimum, often with his hands in his pockets to maintain a physically constrained body position.

What we are witnessing is his lifetime-practiced art of being calm, cool and collected under intense pressure. It’s common to believe that your emotional state controls your body position and movement. If you are enraged and protecting your family, you might throw a punch and assault someone; if your favorite song is playing, you are more likely to sing, dance and feel happy. It’s helpful to understand when facing intense, emotionally-charged situations that it’s easier to start by controlling your body position and movement, knowing your emotional state will follow. In this video of the post-game press conference, we can see Mike controlling his body movements in action.

He begins acting like it’s just another press conference. Notice Mike’s posture: hands are calmly placed forward, resting on the podium. He is relaxed, his eye contact is direct and straight forward, no one in the room doubts who is in control. He starts by quoting facts, listing common injuries and that Mayfield, quarterback for the Browns, played well, extending plays.

The press asks, “Mike, what were your thoughts of what happened at the end?”

Mike: “I will keep my thoughts to myself. You guys saw what happened at the end.”

Journalist: “You have no comment on it?”

Mike: “That’s exactly what I said, I have no comment.”

Journalist: “Have you ever seen anything like that at the end of the game?”

Mike: “No more questions regarding that, because I am saying nothing.”

Mike is confident, knowing that saying nothing is best. He stands his ground through all 3 questions from the press. An inexperienced leader would have allowed themselves to be sucked into the high emotional state, pleading the case for their team and only making the situation worse. Respecting his emotional state and a high probability of having an emotional, biased view, he wisely buys himself time by saying nothing. A journalist responds with a general question: “How concerned are you about your offense?” Notice his body posture and tone – he shrugs his shoulders and speaks like it’s just another post-game conference.

Mike: “You know I am concerned, but you know, we did not get it done tonight. And that’s my level of concern. It does not carry over to the upcoming weeks and things of that nature. We will evaluate this and assess who is available to us and plot a course to move forward.”

Young leaders – have patience. Very few, if anyone, is born this calm and cool under pressure. It is a skill that requires focused practice; watch the body movements and nonverbal cues of your favorite leaders or movie actors. Take a notepad and log their nonverbals related to specific emotions or behaviors and in different environments with different personality types.  

–      Trust

–      Empathy

–      Breadth of command

–      Calm in the face of chaos

–      Humility

Physical movement is highly effective in controlling your emotional state. Non-verbal skills have a dramatic impact on how your message is received. Our primal brains have been trained to survive by detecting fear and mistrust along with selecting who we should allow to lead us. Humans respond quickly to the psychology of the delivery; it is your decision whether you make it your advantage. 

Hire Smarter™ – Tony 

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