THE BLOG

The Indispensible Art Of Keeping Your Cool

05/09/2017 11:55
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

I think we can all safely say that President Trump has been one of the most controversial politicians the U.S has ever seen. Since he was inaugurated over seven months ago, there has been an abundance of tweets, articles and blogs written on him, a lot of which I have digested with a wide range of emotions.

What is interesting, is that when I put my dispassionate mask on and consider the goings-on, there has been one consistency that has astounded me. It seems the true difference between a great leader and someone who is struggling in that position is the ability to stay calm under pressure. In my area of expertise specifically, an excellent leader will never lose their cool when public speaking.

It is only after seeing someone struggle to stay calm in an interview situation that it is possible to silently applaud people's ability to stay focussed when under interrogation and to deliver their message accordingly. Someone who is skilled at staying calm under pressure will focus on re-positioning their interviewer's questions so they can answer in a manner that best showcases them.

Watching speakers exhibit this skill on panel discussions and in conferences has led me to have an increased appreciation for politicians. They spend their lives actively debating with people who have fundamentally different values to their own, and yet they manage to do so with focus, level-headedness and no outward expression of antagonism. Very rarely do you see in the Houses of Parliament or on programmes such as Question Time, a loss of 'cool' and emotions taking over.

And then, we have Donald Trump. We are led to believe, and to some extent have seen, he has a penchant for taking press conferences off-piste, into directions that even his most trusted aides are surprised by. In some cases, they have even been captured grimacing. I'm referencing of course, Chief of Staff John Kelly during President Trump's comments regarding Charlottesville. It is clear that these ad-hoc comments manifest themselves when President Trump's emotions have been triggered (usually by a member of the press) and he loses his cool.

This inability to remain calm and focussed in the public area has also led to a situation, certainly from my perspective, where the words spoken at these events can only be taken with a pinch of salt. It has become almost impossible to distinguish between what is his planned strategy and what is merely the manifestation of emotions, which are then forgotten the following day.

The problem in this scenario is that if the people impacted by such political statements no longer trust anything they hear, there can never be consensus where people pull together to deliver. The goals and vision of one political movement are lost, as they are underpinned by a lack of common purpose through vacuous, spur of the moment words which are voiced by one, not by all. Ultimately, this means large political statements lose meaning, so are forgotten over the following days.

So, how does one stay calm and focussed under pressure especially when speaking publicly? The simple answer is that you have to believe in your position, fully understand your message and what is needed to be done to achieve it. This clarity means the thought process can survive under questioning, and a certain position can be validated without emotions allowing it to become counter-productive.

Turning to closer to home, as we head deeper and deeper into Brexit discussions, there is a definite feeling that the European Union are demonstrating greater clarity of thought about their goals of Brexit. Meanwhile, there have been flashes, certainly from the Prime Minister, if not from some of her colleagues on the front bench, that the lack of unity around the UK's goals of Brexit, are manifesting themselves in the inability to stay calm under pressure.

The hardest part of staying cool is that it relies on the individual to have a clear black and white vision which doesn't always marry up to the various shades of grey real life offers. Historically, this is something that leaders in politics, society and business have always demonstrated and it is a lesson today's leaders could do with learning.

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