In this episode, Ian shares the story of the Vietnamese boat people and draws lessons for leadership.

If by Rudyard Kipling (first verse)
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise

If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs, so said Kipling. It’s a scientific reality of the current chaos that we’re at a time of peak uncertainty. And when we’re at a time of peak uncertainty, anxiety, and fear go to the maximum, this is precisely what your people are, meaning. This means that they’re looking for guidance, they’re looking for direction, and they’re looking for stuff. As we said in the previous episode, Even in peacetime. The thing that leaders most underestimate about themselves is the impact that they have on their people.

And this expectation and impact is greatly enhanced when people are in a state of peak uncertainty, like now in a drowning maelstrom, you are the life jacket and the focus on the spotlight is fully trained on you. In this context, I’m reminded of the story of the Vietnamese boat. People who fled in their hundreds of thousands during the 1970s.

I remember this as a story from my own childhood growing up about 800,000 people fled war-torn Vietnam. And there was one episode that particularly took my attention where a very large flotilla of boats arrived on a destination foreign shore. And you’ll have to understand that these weren’t boats that were made for sea. These were small fishing boats from small villages with families, mostly peasant, rural families, totally overcrowded. When it reached dry land and its destination. This was a perfect controlled experiment condition. What they discovered with this flotilla particular is that amongst all of the boats you had exactly what you’d expect. There was very high mortality rates. Disease was rife exhaustion, depression. It’s exactly what you’d expect in this situation. They made one interesting discovery that this large flotilla, there were two boats. Or this didn’t seem to be the case. There were exceptions to the rule. There were lower than average levels of mortality, disease, depression, and exhaustion.

And they were puzzled the rescuers, try to figure out what it was that was common to both of these boats. And they finally arrived at the one and only conclusion they could find, which was in each of these two boats. There was a calm, influencing, dominant person who wasn’t necessarily the ordained leader within the boat, but they became, and they projected this sense of feeling of calm.

This whole idea of a dominant emotion is critical in times of chaos and critical in times of crisis because the dominant emotion is perversely like a virus. It can be caught. In fact, it is caught and it spreads rapidly. We all have been in that meeting where somebody walks into the room and mood changes, or you’re sitting in the audience and you’re watching somebody get up to deliver a public address.

If somebody is very, very nervous, which is typical of people who get up and speak in public, you already begin to feel the nervousness to transmute into the audience. If somebody is extremely confident, You feel far more relaxed and that becomes contagious too. And we’ve all had the exposure to the overly negative person.

There’s only so much you can do to kind of fend off the mood. So you need to be the calmest person in the boat. You’re surrounded by your people. You’re all in it together. You’re all in the same boat and nobody needs a nervous pilot. So. How do you remain calm? There are many, many ways, and we’re going to explore many of them as we go forward.

But the one thing to recognize is that you’re subject to the same forces of humanity as everybody else, because you’ve got exactly the same fears and anxieties, but you can’t afford to express them. Survival means you trigger a fight or flight response. And if that begins to start to happen in you, you need to come back the chemistry that prevails there with chemistry of your own, the simplest and easiest way to remain calm in a situation is as basic as breathing.

If you take one minute and you just train yourself to breathe in. I’m counting for seven seconds and trying to breathe all the way down into your lower abdomen. If you count to seven breathing slowly and inhale for seven seconds and exhale for seven seconds, and you do this three or four times in a row, it reverses the neurochemistry of the fight or flight response.
Try it on the count of three; breathe in one, two, three and breathe out. Feel it already? If you do that three or four times consecutively, it changes your physiology and it changes your mood. And now you’re in a much better position to lead in a mood or in a way that will keep your people calm because you were demonstrating calm yourself. If you can keep your head while about you, all others are losing theirs. That’s the Kipling mantra. Unless of course, as one wag added, maybe it is that you just don’t understand the situation until next time, stay safe, stay sane, stay connected.

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