Calm Is Contagious

Can you keep your cool when your team is decision-making under stress?


Former Navy SEAL Commander, Rorke Denver, discusses the idea that "calm is contagious" in an organization, and stresses how to keep your head when the going gets rough.

"Calm is contagious," says Rorke. "I've now never seen it proven false because as it turns out, you can supplant any word for calm and it proves true. Panic is contagious; chaos is contagious, stupid, 100 percent contagious."

Watch the video to learn more from Rorke on how staying calm among your team is a must. 

About a week before I graduated from SEAL training, so I was a brand new guy, 14 years ago, we have what's called a final training exercise, an FTX, where they basically give you a mission. You've got to plan it, you've got to brief it, you've got to rehearse it, and then you've got to execute it and actually do a mission. It's the first time you feel like you might be a SEAL.

And everything's based on time. The instructors gave us the mission and we do all our planning, and about midway through we're just going to be, like, it's obvious we are not going to make our hit time, and you don't need to fail at BUD/S for it to be hard. SEAL training, I mean, if you screw up at SEAL training, it's plenty hard without screwing up. If you screw up, it's exceptionally hard. And the class officer, the class leader, the senior man in our class is just running around the compound like a chicken with his head cut off, screaming at people, "We got to get the guns," you know, "We got to get out there right now. We're not going to make it. Let's go." And just the fevered pitch of the entire group because of this was intolerable. We couldn't perform.

I remember this master chief comes walking out. So I don't know how many people know rank in the United States military, but a master chief in the Navy is the senior enlisted rank. I think it's the coolest rank there is, a master chief petty officer. For all of the services, senior enlisted is the coolest rank. But he comes out and this master chief in particular is just like a god to us. I mean, he's covered in tattoos, he's got a tattoo of King Triton and a mermaid and a huge anchor on his chest and this Magnum, P.I. mustache, comes walking out and he says, "Hey, all officers get over here right now." And you are trying to pretend like, "I need to change the coupling on this, let me see if I know . . ." And he's like, "No, everybody over here right now."

So we come running up, we take a school circle and we're looking up and this master chief says, "Let me tell you something, gents. I'm going to give you a piece of advice and a leadership cue because that's your job that I was taught by a master chief from Vietnam and it's never failed. I'm going to give it to you. This is the best thing you're ever going to learn in SEAL training." I mean, we're sitting down there like, "Oh, this is good stuff. Here we go. What do you got?" And he says, "As leaders, people at a minimum are going to mimic your behavior. At a minimum, they're going to mimic it. They'll probably in the SEAL teams, because of how aggressive they are, amplify your behavior. So if you're doing it right, they're going to do it right or better. If you're doing it wrong, they're going to tank. It's a guarantee. So I'm going to tell you what this master chief told me from Vietnam and I want you guys to use it."

And we're just waiting with bated breath. And this is all he said. "Calm is contagious." Calm is contagious. And I remember all of us are down there thinking, "There's got to be more than that. There's got to be something else." But there wasn't, and I've now never seen it proven false because as it turns out, you can supplant any word for calm and it proves true. Panic is contagious; chaos is contagious, stupid, 100% contagious.

So we like calm because calm, in our line of work, means you keep your head. And if you keep your head, and that master chief said, "Gents, if you keep your head, the others around you are going to keep their head." And in our line of work that means you keep your head.

So calm is contagious. This is a little gift, particularly for a leader. If you're going to keep that, you might be churning under the water, but up on the top, you got to have that calm.

Rorke Denver

Commander Rorke T. Denver, founder of Ever Onward, has run every phase of training for the U.S. Navy SEALs and led special-forces missions in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and other international hot spots. He starred in the ...

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