A colleague from my past was a bit of a con man. By that, I mean he frequently pitched new schemes with little-to-no thought about what was needed to deliver on the promises he was making. The story was good, but the details on achieving the goal were lacking. Making promises that he couldn’t keep eventually proved to be his downfall in the business.
Besides being an excellent pitchman, this former colleague also had the great facility to be able to control the tone of whatever was going on. What do I mean? I’d describe him as someone who could be sitting in an office beset by flame and smoke, but you’d never know it from his attitude. His tone and mannerisms would lead you to conclude that all was serene and headed in the right direction. Additionally, he could transform the mood of a room from darkness to light, engaging with people in ways that got them excited about moving forward no matter the circumstances.
Enter the Firefighter
My memories of that colleague got me thinking about the ability of some to define the tone of a situation- even one which is potentially catastrophic. For leaders operating in challenging times, controlling the tone of a situation enables them to transcend the details – often obstacles – of the moment with a style that serves as a cue to your staff not to be worried. It’s a signal that the team should not surrender to the moment, but rather should muster the will to handle whatever challenges need to be faced.
Enter the Flight Attendant
You know what I mean. Most of us have seen this in action. We’ve all been on a plane that’s experienced unexpected turbulence. In that moment, what do we do? Look to the flight attendants and, from their expressions and actions, gauge whether the situation is serious or not. I actually believe that the airline’s onboard staff is trained to smile and behave confidently when things are bad, thus helping to alleviate the sense of panic that passengers would otherwise have. Personally, I recall a flight from Boston to New Orleans that was forced to land at JFK in New York. In that situation, all the flight attendants were strapped in and somber, a clue to me that we might have been in for trouble-indeed I was right as they stopped all flights and had firetrucks at the end of the runway. I wonder if any stress would have been avoided if they had been instructed to act differently.
Enter the Leader = You
The ability to control the tone of a situation has huge benefits and I believe that it’s a litmus test for both identifying new leaders and affirming existing ones. If you can master this skill, you will engender loyalty and perseverance from your staff when the going gets tough, something that will pay for itself many times over.
Are you with me?