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Is it nature or nurture? Poise during the final seconds of an expiring clock in a sports contest often separates winners from losers. Hitting the high note in a solo during an orchestra performance in front of a packed house distinguishes the virtuoso from the amateur. Making the tough decision at the head of the leadership table usually differentiates the effective chief executive from the ineffective stuffed shirt.

Are these leaders born with such composure under pressure or are these learned behaviors? It’s probably a little of both. So, assuming the gift of nature – the lucky wiring handed down from generations of genetics – is part of the package, where does the nurture – the learned ability to remain graceful when it counts most – come from?

Let’s look at the three most likely sources.


The acquisition of coping skills happens when situations require us to adapt. A child learning to ride a bicycle discovers balance just as the bike begins to topple over. If the kid’s dad never lets go of the seat permitting the bicycle to tip, his son or daughter never knows to compensate to the left when the bike falls to the right. This is the beauty of struggle – it forces the need for problem solving.


Most athletes and musicians know what it feels like to be “in the zone.” Parents and business leaders find the zone, as well. The zone is the perfect blend of stress and performance that makes competency look effortless. This is a skill set that can be taught and practiced. It’s basic psychophysiology. Learn the early warning signs your body communicates under stress and employ any of a variety of relaxation techniques to reboot your focus.


Managing change effectively builds resiliency. While instinct may clamor to avoid change at all costs, saying goodbye to the old while saying hello to the new is a reliable problem-solving method. Everything cycles if you don’t waste energy getting stuck. As quickly as you can finish trumpeting how awful a change is, get committed to the task of figuring out what to do about it.

Some people are born to keep their cool when the heat is on. They get a small head-start in the leadership race. The rest of us find a way to channel the people and events of our lives into a moment of clarity when our teammates aren’t sure what to do in a crisis. Were you born to lead with calm or will your poise need to be learned?

About the Author

Steve Ritter is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, the Founder and Managing Director of the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation, the Founder and CEO of the Team Clock Institute, and the author of Useful Pain: Why Your Relationships Need Struggle and Team Clock: A Guide to Breakthrough Teams. You can find Steve on LinkedIn.