With a steady hand on the tiller, you can set the direction and guide the course. Leaders of the 21stcentury are frequently encountering times of uncertainty and chaos, including the current pandemic. Your leadership can be the calming factor that allows others to be their best no matter the external factors. But, conscious and centered leadership during difficult times requires an established practice to build the skill and discipline to leverage mindfulness when others are freaking out.
It only takes one person with collected presence to calm and steady others. You can be that person. With practice and intention, we all have the ability to generate the collectedness and clear-headed perspective needed to move forward in unpredictable times. One leader who is doing his job “with a steady temperament that inspires confidence” is U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome ‘Jay’ Powell who is leading the effort to stabilize the U.S. economy with a myriad of lending programs and reductions in the benchmark interest rate.
“None of us has the luxury of choosing our challenges. Fate and history provide them for us. Our job is to meet the tests we are presented.” Jay Powell, Federal Reserve Chairman. He is meeting the test presented to him with quick action with a calm demeanor. He is being a steady hand.
To be leaders with the steady hand we need two elements: self-composure and a calming communication style.
Self-composure cannot be faked. We need to lead from our own foundation of grounded strength, checking in on and managing our own internal state before we engage with others.
“Here [from the inside out] is where leadership presence is cultivated, and only then can it be felt and shared by the team.” Center for Compassionate Leadership.
We can each cultivate an inward focus and strength to find the place of calm within us when needed. In my work with leaders I hear many different ways that people hone their inner strength. Many read to learn, some meditate, some journal, some find introspection through exercise, some have formal coaches that guide them. Once a base level of self-centeredness is established, it is real life practice that allows us to develop self-composure in all types of situations. Tapping into that inner assurance, accepting what is in the moment and knowing we will do what is most needed next — that is the steady hand that can guide the course. Then we can bear witness to others experiencing anxiety and dissonance in times of uncertainty and be a grounded empathetic force so others can do their jobs well.
Calming communication style can naturally arise from a state of composure, but there are certain speaking characteristics that are typically associated with calm communication. Public safety professionals such as police and fire use ‘command and control’ in emergencies and speak in a low and slow voice to keep the calm for others so they can achieve the task at hand. Research shows that voice pitch and speech rate have a statistically significant correlation with perception in crisis communication. The two primary characteristics of calm communication are a slower pace of speaking and lower pitch of voice. The slower pace of speaking also includes more pauses and more distinct enunciation of words. A common association of voice pitch is the higher the pitch, the greater the excitement, the lower the pitch the more mellow. The structure of the communication is also important; well-organized information implies the leader is in control of the interaction, even if the outside circumstances are not controllable.
Silveria Jacobs, Prime Minister of Sint Maarten, demonstrated a steady hand style of communication in her ‘Simply. Stop. Moving.’ speech that went viral. Her word choice was both assertive and empathetic and she used a low and slow voice with many pauses.
As leaders, we cannot always control external circumstances, but we can control our reactions. We can use our foundation of grounded strength and a calm communication style to be the steady hand for others.