The 3 Sources of Poise

Published: January 2, 2015

Is it nature or nurture? Poise during the final seconds of an expiring clock in a sports contest often separates winners from losers. Hitting the high note in a solo during an orchestra performance in front of a packed house frequently distinguishes the virtuoso musician from the unprofessional. Making the tough decision at the head of the leadership table usually differentiates the effective chief executive from the ineffective figurehead. Are these leaders born with such composure under pressure or are these learned behaviors? A little of both is the likely answer. So, assuming the gift of nature - the lucky wiring handed down from generations of genetics - is part of the package, where does the nurture - the learned ability to remain graceful when it counts most - come from? Let’s look at the three most likely sources.

The acquisition of coping skills happens when situations require us to adapt. A child learning to ride a bicycle discovers balance just as the bike begins to topple over. If the kid’s dad never let go of the seat permitting the bicycle to tip, his son or daughter would never know to compensate to the left when the bike falls to the right. This is the beauty of struggle – it forces the need for problem solving.

Most athletes and musicians know what it feels like to be “in the zone.” Strong business leaders find the zone, as well. The zone is the perfect blend of stress and performance that makes competency look effortless. This is a skill set that can be taught and practiced. It’s basic psychophysiology. Learn the early warning signs your body communicates under stress and employ any of a variety of relaxation techniques to reboot your focus.

Managing change effectively builds resiliency. While instinct may clamor to avoid change at all costs, saying goodbye to the old while saying hello to the new is a reliable problem-solving method. Everything cycles if you don’t waste energy getting and staying stuck. As quickly as you can finish trumpeting how awful a change is, get committed to the task of figuring out what to do about it.

Some teammates are born to keep their cool when the heat is on. They get a small head-start in the leadership race. The rest of us find a way to channel the people and events of our lives into a moment of clarity when our teammates aren’t sure what to do in a crisis. Were you born to lead with calm or will poise need to be learned?

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.