I’m keeping it short and to the point today. I have decided that “Keep Calm and Carry On” is a terrible motto for teams. Craig and I are working with a really nice team right now. We enjoy their cooperation and camaraderie. So why is their keep calm and carry on culture worrying us? Because to keep things calm, they have to stay emotionally detached. To ensure that they never get angry, they can never allow themselves to get passionate.  Teams without passion don’t achieve high performance.

I know, you wish you could dispense with the bursts of anger and flashes of frustration that come with being highly engaged. It would be great if you could make slow and steady progress toward your goals without risk of unpleasantness. Sure, that would be ideal. But it doesn’t work that way. Highly engaged, passionate, committed team members are all in. And being all in means you sometimes lose yourself within the idea. You say something you shouldn’t have. You rev into the red zone. To achieve excellence, you have to push hard enough that occasionally you’ll go too far.

To protect against the downside of emotion, you detach enough to create emotional distance. You console yourself that it’s not personal, it’s just work. Unfortunately, that emotional detachment will also cut off your team’s supply of positive energy. You’ll never want something badly enough to take the risks required to achieve it. You’ll never be willing to make the sacrifices and trade-offs to support the really disruptive projects—the spectacular, career-defining ones. You’ll probably do fine. You’ll probably feel fine. You’ll never feel great.

Ask yourself if you’re keeping it too safe.

You know you’re keeping it too safe when…

  1. You consistently censor your comments to avoid eliciting anger
  2. You relent on something you care about when a proposed answer is tolerable
  3. You mentally check out when discussions get too heated
  4. You use the term “agree to disagree” and then never speak of the issue again
  5. You utter the phrase “let’s take it offline” at least once per meeting
  6. You have never heard anyone in your team raise their voice
  7. You have never felt embarrassed or sheepish about your behavior
  8. You exert more effort making ideas palatable than making them good
  9. You have a dictionary of euphemisms and code words for delicate issues
  10. You color code an issue as “light green”’ because you can’t bear to show a yellow, let alone a red on your issue log (yup, I’ve seen it!)
  11. You can’t remember the last time you unabashedly fought for something with the willingness to be totally gutted if you didn’t get it

Passion is powerful and like most powerful things, it can be dangerous. If you want to get to the moon, you need rocket fuel. You risk the occasional explosion. But if you want to get to the moon, you’ll never get there on unleaded. Is your team fueled by passion or running on empty?

Further Reading

3 Benefits of Dealing with Emotions on Your Team

Crying at Work

Dealing with Negative Emotions

5 Responses to Keep calm and carry on is bad advice

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