How NOT to Lose Your Cool Under Pressure – Lessons in Equanimity from Dan ‘the Man’

My friend Dan (no, not the gaming character) is the epitome of equanimity.

Chaos and drama, rivalling a particularly violent episode of Vikings, will be raining down on everyone’s heads, but he’s all calm, poker-faced serenity – like some peaceful swan creating the barest of ripples as he glides through calamity.

(In my less collected moments, I’ve been the one in a screaming puddle of emotions, flailing about in a drama-fuelled fashion beside him – but that’s a story for another day.)

The Romans knew all about this kind of composure and extolled its virtues. The word equanimity stems from the Latin word æquanimitas – having an even mind; aequus means even and animus is the mind/soul.

Equanimity is all about being balanced and Zen-like, regardless of what sh*t has hit the fan.

What’s the big deal about Dan’s equanimity when it comes to leading and why should you put effort into cultivating it? 

Leaders with equanimity:

  • Are cool under pressure
  • Can be counted on to hold things together during tough times
  • Are not knocked off balance by the unexpected
  • Manage their emotions in an appropriate way
  • Are a settling influence in a crisis

Tough times, pressure, crises, the unexpected?

That pretty much sums up a leader’s world these days doesn’t it? It’s not too hard to see why equanimity is worth working on. But here are two reasons:

  1. Equanimity is a good thing because people always look to their leaders for an example of how to behave in any given situation. This is especially important in a crisis or when the going gets tough. Bottom line? If you want your people to be level-headed, you need to be level-headed.
  1. Equanimity builds resilience and better relationships. Managing your emotions rather than allowing them to manage you – helps you handle stress. Bonus? It builds healthier relationships – both pretty handy if you’re a leader.

The good news is that there are ways you can develop equanimity. Here are three for starters:

  • Mindfulness and meditation. I’ve talked about the link between leadership effectiveness, mindfulness and meditation here and here, but it bears repeating. I’ve just clocked up 45 days in a row meditating for the first time in my life and I can tell you first hand, it’s helping me get better at regulating my emotions.
  • Count to ten and take some deep breaths. Our judgement ain’t the best when we’re upset or angry, so when something pushes your buttons, take three deep breaths (this engages the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ part of our brain), go to the bathroom, ask a question, picture a calm scene – anything that helps you to switch from ‘react’ mode to ‘respond’ mode. Simple practices that calm your body and switch you out of ‘fight or flight’ build equanimity.
  • Say the third thing that comes to mind. Research shows that it isn’t usually the first thing we say, but the second or third thing we think of saying that’s the best option. Get into the habit of pressing pause when there’s a crisis or difficult situation. Think or write down three things to do or say before acting on one of them. That purposeful pause will help to build your impulse control.

Admittedly, there are times when I think Dan could do with losing his poker face just a tad, but as a leader, his equanimity has served him – and his team – very well.

1 Comment

  1. jasmine hessell on May 20, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    Thanks for your training this week Suzi. It was just what I needed, and right on point. This article is another one just up my alley, most days are cool, calm and collected, but ….just sometimes…..

    Working on the meditation and deep breathing really does help.
    Jazz Hessell

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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