Keep Calm and Carry On

A leader I know posted a link to a video that explained the history of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster on her Facebook page last week. Watching the video made me think about how attractive the poster’s message is. Why has it become so popular? To think that we (humans) have the capacity to keep calm and carry on even under extreme circumstances is reassuring in these tumultuous times. But sometimes it doesn’t seem that easy to do. Does leadership make a difference? I think so.

Earlier that week, I had visited the organization the person who had posted the link leads. As I watched the video, I remembered how impressed I had been by the clarity of vision that came through in the meeting I attended. This is an organization that has undergone significant budget cuts over the past several years.

There may have been moments of absolute chaos during the transition period, but what I saw and heard was thoughtful articulation of a mandate and menu of services that had been adjusted so that the organization could meet its goals with current resources. The organization is developing creative new offerings for new markets, they had stopped offering some services, and had made scope adjustments to systems they were continuing to develop and support.

I suspect what enabled the organization to go through the ordeal of cutbacks and come out the other side looking like they are thriving is the quality of leadership. From what I know of this leader (who did not attend any of the meetings, by the way) I suspect she modeled calm behavior through the organizational change process. Just as people can get stressed out at work by a highly emotional leader (especially one who is unpredictable), a clear and calm leader can lower anxiety and stress throughout the organization.

When people are calmer–less anxious and stressed, they are able to think more broadly and creatively. The organization I visited was not simply carrying on in the sense of maintaining the status quo. They had adapted to their new circumstances through creative problem solving. An external threat may have been the catalyst for change, but a calm leader enabled adaptive transformation to occur. Keep Calm and Carry On!

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About Katherine Kott

Management, organizational effectiveness, and organizational change consultant in the academic sector. Experience working with libraries, museums, archives, and other not-for-profits to manage change and enhance organizational effectiveness. Areas of expertise include meeting facilitation, team building, leadership development, volunteer program development, organizational design, performance improvement, change management, systems thinking.
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