P is for Demonstrating Poise


There are many ways to do fine work. One approach is to be positive, follow your chosen principles and demonstrate poise.

Great workers show poise at key moments on the way to achieving peak performance. Here are some definitions of this quality.

Poise is to show calmness, confidence, composure, grace and dignity of manner.

This is similar to showing grace under pressure. Marjorie Clifton has written a fine article on that theme called Grace Under Pressure: Why difficult situations speak the most about you. She begins it with the following statement.

When my grandfather was once asked by a banker whether a dear friend of his of 20 years was trustworthy, he famously said, “I don’t know, I’ve never seen his back against the wall.”

I always wondered what he meant; after all, he had known the guy for most of his life. But, as a professional, and now a parent, I am acutely more aware of what he was really saying.

Marjorie goes on to share ideas about how people can respond when faced by a difficult scenario. Below are some of the headline themes. You can discover more via the following link to her article in the Huffington Post.


Take time to breathe or a walk before you react. 

Take the high road, even when it hurts. 

Take time to consider the long-term impact of your decision and actions.  

Looking back on your life, can you think of a situation when you demonstrated elements of poise? You may have shown these qualities when responding to a challenging question, managing a crisis, dealing with an ethical dilemma, making a tough decision or whatever.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you demonstrated element of poise.

Describe the specific elements of poise that you demonstrated in the situation.  

Describe the specific things that happened has a result of demonstrating these qualities.




Imagine that you want to follow these steps in the future. Let’s explore how you can do this in your own way.

Start by defining the specific situation in which you want to demonstrate elements of poise. This could be a situation in your personal or professional life.

You may want to do this when managing a challenge, playing in a sport, giving a keynote speech, making a transition, dealing with an illness, taking a tough decision or whatever.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do two things.

Describe the specific situation in which you want to demonstrate poise.

Describe the specific benefits of demonstrating poise in this situation.



to be positive

How can you show a positive attitude in the situation? Positive realists, for example, start by clarifying what they can control in the situation. They then take the following steps.

They clarify the real results they want to achieve and translate this into a clear picture of success. 

They clarify how they can build on their strengths – whilst managing the consequences of any weaknesses – to do their best to achieve the picture of success. 

They clarify the key strategies they can follow to achieve the picture of success.

Looking back on your life, can you think of when you showed a positive attitude in a challenging situation? What did you do right then to show a positive attitude? How can you demonstrate these qualities in the future?

Let’s return to the situation in which you want to show poise. How can you clarify what you can control in the situation? How can you clarify the real results you want to achieve? How can you build on your strengths and pursue the strategies most likely to achieve success?

Choosing to
follow your principles

People we admire often return to their inner compass in challenging situations. Such people take the following steps to make this happen.

They buy time to pause and reflect on the key principles they want to follow in their life.

They clarify the principles they want to follow in the situation.

They clarify how they can follow these principles to achieve their picture of success.

You will have your own view of the principles you want to follow. Looking at civilisations across the world, however, there are certain qualities that are admired in human beings.

Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson wrote about these qualities in their book Character Strengths and Virtues. They led a research team that studied the qualities of moral excellence that are admired across different philosophies, religions and cultures.

After extensive research, the team settled on six key virtues, though these are obviously interlinked. Martin Seligman provides the following introduction. You can discover more via the following link.


When we look we see that there are six virtues, which we find endorsed across cultures, and these break down into 24 strengths.

The six virtues that we find are non-arbitrary – first, a wisdom and knowledge cluster; second, a courage cluster; third, virtues like love and humanity; fourth, a justice cluster; fifth a temperance, moderation cluster; and sixth a spirituality, transcendence cluster.

We sent people up to northern Greenland, and down to the Masai, and are involved in a 70-nation study in which we look at the ubiquity of these.

Indeed, we’re beginning to have the view that those six virtues are just as much a part of human nature as walking on two feet are.


You will have your own set of principles. Bearing in mind the challenge you face, you may want to ask the following questions.

What are the principles I believe in following in my life and work? How can I follow these principles in this situation? What will be the consequences? How can I build on the pluses and minimise the minuses? How can I translate my principles into action in this situation?

Choosing to
demonstrate poise

Different people choose different ways to demonstrate poise in challenging situations. As mentioned earlier, some choose to buy time, breathe deeply and consider their potential strategies for going forwards.

Such people aim to go into the calm zone rather than into the chaotic zone. Staying calm, they clarify the real results to achieve and the potential strategies for achieving their picture of success. Settling on their chosen way forwards, they do their best to achieve the desired concrete results.

Sometimes a person can get knocked off track, however, and go into the chaotic zone. They may behave in a way that creates chaos and confusion. This can also lead to collateral damage, both for themselves and other people.


Imagine that you want to demonstrate poise in a particular situation. You may ask some of the following questions. 

How can I stay calm in the situation? How can I deal with the immediate challenge but also buy time to consider the possible options?  

What are the real results I want to achieve? What do I want people to be thinking, feeling and saying after I have acted? What is the picture of success?

What are my possible choices for going forwards? What are the consequences of each option? Looking at these options, which is the route I want to take?  

How can I translate this strategy into action? How can I get some quick successes? How can I do my best to achieve the desired concrete results?

Many peak performers are constantly working under pressure. So how do they manage to retain their poise in challenging situations?

James Kerr describes one model in his book Legacy, which is about the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. The players are expected to inspire the nation and win every match. Looking at the team’s history, however, this has sometimes led to the players having negative emotions and failing to deliver the goods.

James describes how the players learned to feel calm rather than frantic. They switched to a state they called Blue Head rather than Red Head.

Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, summarised this approach in one of his blogs. Below are excerpts from the piece that you can find via the following link.


Quick background: a few years ago, the team was going through a period of uncharacteristic struggle. Some players were having trouble controlling their emotions in matches.

So, with the help of a former Rhodes Scholar named Ceri Evans, they devised a tool to fix that, built on a simple two-part frame that describes the mental state you want to avoid, and the one you want to be in. They call it Red Head/Blue Head. 

Red Head is the negative state, when you are heated, overwhelmed, and tense (H.O.T., in the parlance). Your emotional engine is smoking, your perceptions are slow, the game feels too fast, and your decision making is rushed.

Blue Head, on the other hand, is the precise opposite: the cool, controlled, pattern-seeing state, when you retain your awareness and your decision-making power, when you stay flexible and deliver top performance. The key is doing three things: 

1) Seek to stay in Blue Head as your default setting.

2) Sense cues when you are entering Red Head mode 

3) Use a physical or mental trigger to get yourself back into Blue Head. 

On the All Blacks, each player is encouraged to devise personal triggers to make the transition. One player stamps his feet into the grass, to ground himself.  

Another uses mental imagery, picturing himself from the highest seat in the stadium, to help put the moment in perspective.

Whatever tool you use doesn’t matter – what matters is realizing you’re in the wrong emotional zone, and finding ways to cool yourself off and get back in a high-performing head space.

Let’s return to the situation where you want to demonstrate poise. Looking ahead, what can you do to be positive, follow your principles and demonstrate poise? How can you follow these steps in your own way?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to demonstrate elements of poise.

Describe the specific things you can do to demonstrate elements of poise in the situation.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of demonstrating elements of poise in the situation.




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