Performance and Leadership – Don’t Panic Captain Mainwaring!

I don’t watch much TV these days, but last weekend I was staying with my parents when a repeat of Dad’s Army came on. My dad’s a big fan so we sat down and watched it together. (I guess I’m showing my age when I say I’m old enough to remember when Dad’s Army first came out in the 1970s….)

When I think of Dad’s Army some memorable phrases come to mind, but perhaps the most memorable of all is Corporal Jones famous line “Don’t Panic Captain Mainwaring!” Why does this phrase stick in our minds? Well, perhaps it’s because Captain Mainwaring can always be relied upon to panic, in fact he’s always in a fluster about something which is why he’s so ridiculous.

“What’s that got to do with business?” you might ask. Well, quite a lot as it happens.

First let’s take a look at what happens when we panic. Panic is a condition brought about by fear, normally as a result of some external event which causes us to feel threatened. When this happens our brain quickly short-circuits sending us into animal mode and we get a rush of blood to the limbs and a sharp shot of adrenaline. The so-called fight or flight syndrome. We are then in a heightened state, all ready for action.

A heightened state. That sounds pretty energetic. Isn’t that a good condition to be in if you want to get lots done? The short answer is no. Whilst we might be all primed up to run very fast or defend ourselves physically, the rush of blood to the limbs means that our mental abilities are impaired, particularly those parts of the brain associated with decision-making and good judgement.

What we want of our leaders, and what your business expects of you, is that you will stay cool under pressure so that you remain capable of taking good decisions whatever’s going on around you.

How can we train ourselves to get better at this? The first thing we need to do is to become more in touch with our own emotions. When we’re conscious of our emotions we can recognise fear early on and stop ourselves in our tracks (and before we do something stupid.). Once we recognise the onset of fear, the next step is to look around and have a go at identifying what’s causing it. It may be that the threat is more perceived than actual. But whatever the situation we’ve got a better chance of dealing with it effectively if we remain cool, calm and collected.

Going back to Captain Mainwaring, there’s another point that’s worth mentioning. As a leader, Captain Mainwaring’s status derives mainly from his title. True leadership cannot be awarded from above. It comes only from influence and that must be earned by gaining the respect of the team. For entrepreneurs the good news is that leadership is not something that we’re born with, it’s a learnable skill.

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