Commander Rorke T. Denver knows something about leadership.
In a keynote address at the 2015 Lacrosse Convention in Baltimore, the former All-American defenseman at Syracuse and 13-year Navy SEAL said the best leadership lesson learned in military training was simple: “Calm is contagious.“
Denver told the story of his final training exercise as a Navy SEAL, where students in training have to plan, organise and execute a mission all “under the watchful eye of the lunatic Navy SEAL instructor.” His team was behind the clock, and they were in trouble.
He recounts how his ranking officer (also a student in training) was “screaming his head off like the Tasmanian devil,” and added, “The fevered pitch level of everyone’s behaviour was just unsustainable.”
Amidst the chaos, the master chief petty officer, the senior ranking enlisted man in the United States Navy — who Denver said is a basic training “god” — came over and told all the officers to gather.
He told them:
“As officers, at a minimum, the boys are going to mimic your behaviour. In our line of work, based on our personalities, they’re probably going to amplify your behaviour, and athletes are the exact same way. As leaders, as captains, as officers, if you keep your head, they will keep their head. If you keep it together, they will keep it together. And if you lose it, they will lose it.
So I’m going to share with you the best thing I learned as a master chief when I was a new guy from a master chief in Vietnam: Calm is contagious.”
And as he walked away, Commander Denver heard him say, “Because if you keep your head in our line of work, you keep your head!”
Denver said this advice can be applied to any leadership situation. “You can supplant any word you want for ‘calm’ — chaos is contagious, panic is contagious, stupid 100% is contagious,” he said. “So we like ‘calm’ because it lets you keep your head, it keeps you focused on the mission at hand.”