Don’t Panic!

Don't Panic

There were four of us sitting around the small conference table, name tags by our seats.  We listened intently as Alfredo, our instructor, began explaining the basics of SCUBA diving to us.  My younger son and I sat next to each other, ready to learn all we could.

“Does anyone know one of the top rules in SCUBA?”

“Swim away from sharks?”   One person jokingly offered.

“Well, it’s something you’ll need to know when you do see a shark!”

Don’t panic!

When you’re 30 or more feet below the surface of the water, you sometimes have to push against your natural instincts.  If you run out of air, or come face-to-face with a moray eel, or lose sight of your dive buddy, your instincts will tell you to panic.  But we learned that first night of class that panic can only get you into all kinds of trouble , and rarely out of trouble.

Panic can cause you to breathe too quickly, using up your air supply.

Panic can cause you to react and make stupid mistakes.

Panic can result in injury – to yourself or others.

You know, I think maybe the top rules for leading volunteers are the same as the top rules for SCUBA!

Don’t Panic!

When half of your team calls in sick right before they are scheduled to volunteer, don’t panic!

When a volunteer asks a question that you don’t know the answer to, don’t panic!

When conflict arises, don’t panic!

(You can read more about conflict in leadership here.)

Panic can cause you to breathe too quickly, using up your air supply.

I’ve had a few instances in leadership where this was close to literal….but I think it is better seen as a figurative comparison.  Panic in leadership causes you to deplete your resources – whether those resources are time, personnel, or physical supplies.  You’re not thinking clearly, and you begin to throw solutions at your problems, instead of taking the time to lead through the difficult season.  Instead of slowing down and looking at the situation through a different lens, you can cause chaos.

Panic can cause you to react and make stupid mistakes.

When you’re down under the water, your sight and hearing are not as sharp as they are on the surface.  You can easily be caught by surprise when a sea creature appears suddenly in front of you, or when you hear a strange noise while diving a wreck.  Panic could cause you to lose your sense of direction, surface too quickly, or cause harm to the environment.

Panic in leadership can cause you to react, resulting in stupid mistakes, too.  Leaders have to learn how to  respond instead of react to stressful situations.  Panic may cause you to say harsh words to your volunteers, make changes that haven’t been thought through, or damage teamwork and unity.

Panic can result in injury – to yourself or others.

SCUBA diving is a somewhat risky activity.  Proper knowledge, skills, equipment and experience help decrease the potential for risk.  The more you rely on those four values, the less likely you are to panic.  If you panic and ascend too quickly from the depths, you can seriously injure your lungs and body.  If you panic when you see a shark, you can trigger aggressive behavior by the shark, resulting in possible injury to yourself or your dive buddy.  Almost all injuries from SCUBA diving occur when the diver panics.

When you panic as a leader, you have the potential to injure your influence.  Your teams are looking to you to be steady and sure.  Panic causes them to lose trust in you.  Harsh words and lost unity injure your team more than you can imagine.  It’s difficult to protect your team when you’re busy hurting them.


I’m looking forward to getting further into SCUBA classes over the next few weeks.  I’m starting to gain the knowledge that will help prevent me from panicking in the water.  I’ve already learned such an important lesson with the two little words:  don’t panic.

What area of your life will improve if you remember those words?


2 thoughts on “Don’t Panic!”

  1. Audrey Bowling says:

    This is so relevant and sadly how I have been reacting to things. I know I’ll come back to this article over and over. Thank you Heather.

    1. So glad it is helpful for you, Audrey! Love ya!

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