Leaders Don’t Panic

[May 11, 2018]  On a quiet night where little enemy activity had been a pleasant break from the incessant mortar and rocket attacks on our small outpost, one lone rocket hit our unit’s ammunition storage bunker.  Things went haywire after that.  But leaders don’t panic and we were able to contain the fire and explosions rather quickly.

Real leaders don’t panic; at least the good ones don’t anyway.  Whether it be combat, a natural or manmade disaster, a medical emergency, it matters not the situation; good leadership means keeping one’s head while others panic or they look to you for quick and correct guidance.

While reading books and articles on the U.S. Civil War, I often came across passages that described battles where one of the combatants panicked and ran when they were losing the battle.  This set into motion the circumstances that the one winning was able to do more damage to those fleeing the battlefield.

It’s always best in a battle to stand your ground unless ordered to retreat and then to do so in an orderly manner.  However, this runs counter to our human nature; when under threat, people run!  In wars throughout history, we see this pattern repeated to such a point that historians often make note of it.  Panic on the battlefield is a significant event.

So it is with human behavior not on the battlefield.  When things are looking bad in business, workers and management can begin to panic.  This sets into motion a chain of events that make it worse for the company.  Bad decisions happen, good workers quit, suppliers restrict their sales, etc.  A death spiral occurs when it becomes increasingly difficult for an organization to recover.1

You may think this is easy.  If that were the case, why are there so many examples of leaders failing to control their own instincts and also panic?  Why do people panic in the first place?  It is not so much about courage, than it is about staying focused and using leadership to hold a group together.

The characteristics of leadership, those traits that I’ve repeatedly discussed here at theLeaderMaker.com – like loyalty, credibility, trust, and confidence – are what keep organizations together and performing their mission without going into panic mode.



Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

27 thoughts on “Leaders Don’t Panic

  1. Yusaf from Texas

    I’m reading this post late (but got to it). Much appreciate the understanding that real leaders don’t panic. I must express my gratitude for someone to actually say it takes EFFORT, HARD WORK, and FOCUS to be a leader who doesn’t panic when others are losing their proverbial heads. Good work here.

  2. Edward Kennedy III

    There are many who read these pages that are educated on the ways of leadership and that follow Brig Gen Satterfield. He is doing a great service to the community by putting out this free blog so I highly recommend you steer people in this direction. Youngsters in particular have a lot to gain by reading these daily and very short articles.

  3. Jerome Smith

    Same here Bryan, just catching up. I would like to add that I have personally experienced a failed organization when I worked in the garment industry when the company president panicked one day and decided to cut all his higher paid workers. He was worried about competition from overseas but by cutting the highest paid (and most productive) workers when he heard that China was “dumping” garments on us, he made a panicked decision that ultimately cost him the business.

  4. Bryan Lee

    I was out yesterday and missed this article. Another good one from Gen Satterfield. Thanks and keep ’em coming.

  5. Billy Kenningston

    TGIF and another great article to help explain our leadership and lack thereof. Human nature tells us to panic. Overcoming it takes training and thought. Most people cannot have both at the same time.

  6. Jonathan B.

    Several have noted here in the comments section about politicians panicking when presented with real-world problems and giving us inadequate solutions. I personally think they are more superficial than that and appropriately deserve our scorn for their failures.

  7. Andrew Dooley

    “Don’t panic!” How absolutely appropriate for our times. Look at how our politicians react to tragedies; they panic. They give an emotional-based “solutions” that stretch the imagination how it would work. Look at the gun-control debate. Progressive ideology simply says to ban guns. But guns are a tool Should we also ban cars because of deaths on the highway? Of course not since cars are only tools.

  8. Darryl Sitterly

    Always a pleasure to read your articles Gen Satterfield. I liked this one specifically since my whole career has been about how to adapt to emergencies.

  9. Joe Omerrod

    Everyone knows by now that I work in the medical profession. Emergency room procedures are built around the idea that even professionals can panic on occasion so we make specific actions known and posted and practiced often to reduce this risk.

  10. Eddie Ray Anderson, Jr.

    Nothing is more preventable than keeping control over our emotions, I will argue. At least this is true of those who have experience. That is why it is dangerous (risky) to put people in leader positions who lack relevant experience and background.

    1. Watson B.

      …and so many college “snowflakes too seem to be in a continuous panic mode.

  11. Shawn C Stolarz

    Good comments today on what I consider to be an overlooked topic among junior leaders (altho it also applies to sr ldrs too). I’ve seen it happen time and again when someone in a leadership position lacks appropriate experiences and fails because they let their emotions take over their decisions. Then ethics go out the window; bad things follow.

  12. Wilson Cox

    History is filled with examples of what happens when a group of people panic. It doesn’t matter who they are, everyone is subject to the whims of our emotions. And while emotions are a two-edged sword, as Gen Satterfield has noted, if it is not under control, things can go terribly wrong. I’ve personally seen it in business when bad decisions get made because the owner did something that was based on an emotional response and not on logic.

  13. Ronny Fisher

    When British PM Churchill held together England during WWII, this is exactly what he was trying to achieve; keeping his countrymen from panicking and doing stupid things and consequently losing the war against fascism.

  14. Anita

    Good article today on a subject dear to my heart. Thank you.

  15. Dennis Mathes

    I can see the battlefield as a place where you don’t want to panic but, I would think, this is less of a problem in the corporate boardroom. There is more time for decisions. Although I might be wrong about this but time does give us room to calm down, let emotions subside, and then make good decisions.

  16. Mr. T.J. Asper

    As a High School coach of several sports teams (in a small town), I’ve seen young boys lose their cool when things weren’t going well on the field. They won’t “panic” per se but they get frustrated and mad, then make poor decisions as their emotions drive their behavior more than what they’ve been taught to do in order to win the game.

    1. Kenny Foster

      You’re right Mr. Apser, it mattes not whether it be on the playing field, in battle, or on the shop floor. When people panic, things go haywire.

    2. Eddie Ray Anderson, Jr.

      I was thinking the same thing too.

  17. Army Captain

    Correct, in battle it is common knowledge that if you panic, you are more of a danger than anything else that could go wrong. But what we do know about people is that once tested in battle we now have a good idea of how you will act under pressure. This is why in training we put soldiers under tremendous pressure; to see how they will act.

    1. Mark Evans

      For those of us who’ve spent a lot of time in leadership positions, this comes as no surprise. There are advantages in an organization to have people work their way up from the bottom of the leadership ladder to the top. They gain so much knowledge and expereince that no substitution of brain power can compensate.

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