Poise and Composure & Business and Management – Why They Go Together

Posted: September 17, 2010 in Management

Early in my tennis career, I had a terrible temper. One of the first times I stepped on a tennis court with my Dad as a 9 year old, I threw my racquet after a series of missed shots. My Dad immediately stopped, walked over to my side of the court, took the racquet out of my hand and calmly said “you will not play tennis ever again if you throw your racquet”. We got in the car and drove home.

At the time, I didn’t really understand the lesson I learned that day. I was embarrassed and vowed to not ever again throw a tantrum in competition, and save a few fits of relatively mild frustration over the next 12 years, never did and was all the better for it. Instead, I learned how to have composure in times of panic or crisis when the easy thing to do was to lose my cool. Entering my business career, I vowed to transfer this overall mantra since it had become habitual for me for over a decade.

I was reminded of this after reading CMO Frances Allen’s article in Adweek called “The Lessons of Losing It”, which is a fine piece written from the aspect of understanding consumers fears and uncertainties during these trying economic times. The article urges business people and marketers to keep people’s concerns top of mind when marketing and interacting with consumers. The author cited some people’s “good for you!” reaction to the infamous JetBlue pilot’s actions several weeks ago as proof of the general public’s unease and frustration. In other times, the acts of the pilot that day may not have been celebrated but during these times, there was a segment of the population who applauded his acts seemingly because there are a lot of people who would love to “lose it” on the job like that pilot did.

While the conclusions drawn in the article are accurate, I want to offer a different approach and focus more on why composure is important inside actual businesses encompassing everyday business dealings, whether you’re an entrepreneur, an executive, an employee or dealing with a client.

Big business, and especially small business, is a lot like professional sports. You win some, you lose some. During the course of a day, things go your way and things don’t. There are “teammates” you really like, others maybe not quite as much. There are also dozens of decisions made within the span of a game or match; in business, it is the same thing in the course of a single day, so lucid thinking and an ability to act and react quickly is crucial.

Most people, but not all mind you, tend to perform better when their mind is clear and not bottled up in negative emotion. The best analogy is an athlete who is “in the zone” where he or she is letting the game come to them and reacting based on their training and expertise often without realizing they actually are “thinking” with no raw negative emotion. Listen to any interview of an athlete or business person or speaker who claims they were “in the zone” and they will all say “it felt like I wasn’t thinking out there, I was letting things happen.”

This notion translates perfectly to business. Calm and collected people tend to work with other people or with a team better than abrasive ones. They tend to make smarter less reactive decisions. They tend to be better role models to coworkers. They tend to be better prepared. And importantly, they tend to provide better customer and client service. How often have you called a customer service person at a business and had them totally get frustrated and be snippy? I bet they came across as out of control, uninformed and generally unhappy – and likely unable to resolve questions!

People – and business people – are defined by how they handle adversity. This can be during the course of a day, week, quarter or year. The saying really does ring true: success is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you handle it. Both personally and with others I’ve looked up to professionally, I’ve found that those who handle issues or problems with poise and composure often resolve the issues or problems better than people who fly off the handle and “lose it”.

Does this mean I’m saying that everyone should be emotionless as it relates to their business or daily lives? Certainly not. Everyone needs to blow off steam eventually and even if you keep your composure, things might still not have the outcome you desire. I’m suggesting the calm, cool ones have a better chance at the desired outcome though. There are countless examples to combat this notion – from leaders to executives to athletes to entrepreneurs – people who feed off raw, negative emotion as a means to drive them towards success. Those that succeed in this way are an exception; most of the people I know or watch who have accomplished great things are able to quietly shine in the moments of greatest pressure and stress, and emit those virtues to others around them.


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