Keep your head cool

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A few months ago, I participated in an annual walking event in The Netherlands. This is a 4 day’s walking challenge, during which you walk 30, 40 or 50 km each day. Some 35000 people participate, including scores from other countries. The start and finish are always on the same place in the centre of the city of Nijmegen, but the walk follows a different route each day. Those who do the 50km begin as early as 5am, while the 40km and 30km walkers start later, the last group at 7.45am.
I registered for this event over two years ago but because of Corona, the 2020 and 2021 editions were cancelled. I opted for the 30km and together with my wife we practiced weeks in advance to make sure I was fit enough to do it.
So, this year, the city made itself ready again and everybody got excited as the walk is surrounded by lots of cultural and musical performances. You can imagine the economic boost for the city as 35000 walkers and their supporters come and visit for almost a week.
The weather forecast was a bit worrying though. The first day it promised to be very warm, like 38 degrees centigrade, which is too high especially in the Dutch humid climate. The organising committee decided therefor to cancel the first day as they assessed the risk of medical emergencies too high.
The second day, the temperatures were expected to be lower, although still well in the 30-35 degrees centigrade range. Everybody was excited at the starting line to begin the long-awaited challenge. So, off I went with the third in line starting group. I soon learned to keep my own pace, as some walk fast, some slow, some in a group, some alone. There were many supporters along the route with music, snacks, water, and places to take a rest. The deadline to cross the finish line was 5pm, in principle allowing enough time to make it. A special app allowed myself but also my followers to see where I was and what progress I was making. I did rather well, and around noon I had done 20km when my wife met me and joint me for the last 10km. Making sure I ate and drank enough, we went along. As we came closer to the city again, I noticed some participants sitting down and having a difficult time coping. Entering the city, where it felt a lot warmer than in the countryside, I began walking slower and slower. My wife noticed, took me aside to rest a bit and eat an ice cream for some cool energy. Too late! I began to feel sick and had to lay down, while she continued to poor water over my head, which was the right thing to do. The heat was having its effect on me after all! Some first aid volunteers spotted me and came to check on me. They took out some icepacks and held them against my forehead and in my neck. It felt good and slowly I started to feel better again. After half an hour I had cooled down and felt fit enough to complete the last few kilometres. We crossed the finish line well in time and were ready to enjoy the evening and get ready for the next day. The second day was completely the opposite as it rained. Now there was a risk of hypothermia! However, we had good rain jackets and made it well in time, while the rain had no negative effect on the mood of both walkers and spectators. The third day was a pleasant warm and dry day, the perfect conditions to complete the challenge. Now it was party time!
But what has all this then to do with doing business? Well, the importance of keeping your head cool! We all see top athletes pouring water over their head and in their neck while completing a marathon or a cycling race. That is what I should have been doing myself, cooling the temperature control centre in the brain, which would have prevented me slipping into a mild heat stroke.
This is what the saying Keeping a Cool Head is derived from I suppose, meaning to stay calm in a difficult situation. There are even biblical refences to this principle, for example in 1 Peter 5:8:
Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The devil is poised to pounce and would like nothing better than to catch you napping.
Well, many of us face hard times indeed and it is not easy to stay calm always in difficult situations. The environment of doing business is not that conducive, impacted by financial constraints, inflation, shortage of hard currency – making it difficult to import materials, ingredients, equipment, and spare parts – frequent interruption of utility services like water and electricity, conflict, and the global energy crisis. Prices of common food items have doubled over the past year or so and there is no indication this will reverse. Meanwhile wages remain the same.
Plenty of reasons in other words, to get upset, angry, frustrated, and emotional.
In her blog, Dale Allen, CEO of ConsciousLead, writes the following and I quote: “Emotions can cloud our judgement and impede our leadership abilities. Keeping our emotions in check – or keeping a cool head – is a vital skill for managers and business executives.There’s no escaping that our emotions can get the better of us from time to time. Colleagues are going to upset us, bosses are going to make decisions that seem unfair, and clients are going to push our buttons. The conscious leader knows when to step back from an issue. She suggests to find yourself a quiet place and take your time to develop the most accurate description of your feelings. Explore words like angry, upset, frustrated, sad, disgruntled, etc. to find the best. You don’t need to tell anyone or write it down or say it out loud, just create a precise acknowledgement of how you feel. The process allows the different parts of your brain to work in unison to find the perfect balance of language, meaning and emotion. When that balance is found, take a couple deep breaths and you’re ready to face the world!” End of quote.
In conclusion, yes, these are difficult times during which our emotions are tested to the max. Not taking a step back and allowing a particular situation to cool down, may result in us functioning less well and failing to face the challenge. Just like my body began failing to keep going in the heat, we will begin failing to lead and manage effectively. So, we need to make sure that we consciously keep our head cool!

Ton Haverkort
ton.haverkort@gmail.com