Saturday, May 9, 2015

Managing anxiety in our leadership roles and saving us from ourselves

On a regular basis, leaders are confronted with situations that cause anxiety. How we learn (and it is learned) to handle that anxiety is one of the key factors in how well we will lead over the long haul. Those who don't handle anxiety well will sabotage their leadership either through emotional responses that are inappropriate or through inner turmoil that eats at their gut - and often both. It is one of the reasons some very bright people choose not to lead. When someone says, "It's not worth the hassle," what they are often saying is that "I don't have the tools to manage the anxiety that comes with leadership."

Anxiety is the uncertainty that comes from any number of situations leaders face. It can be conflict within the team that needs to be resolved, actions or words of a team member that we assume are disloyal to us, seemingly dumb things that someone may have done or situations we just don't know how to confront. I can think of a long list of people and situations that caused me anxiety as a leader, especially as a young leader. That anxiety, however, must be managed if we are to act with discernment and wisdom rather than with an emotional, angry or knee-jerk response.

How do we manage our emotions in these situations and save ourselves from ourselves? Here are some suggestions:

One: Don't act precipitously. Acting out of our initial response will usually exacerbate the situation rather than resolve it.

Two: Manage your anxiety - it is wasted energy. I often simply visualize a drawer in my mind where I place those things causing me anxiety and lock it until it is time to deal with the issue.

Three: Don't assume you have all the facts. This is why time is on your side. Often when acting out of emotion we are also acting out of factual ignorance. Getting the whole story often puts things into perspective.

Four: Don't assume ill motives. When we get all the facts we often discover that the motives of others were not poor whether what they did was wise or not.

Five: Consult with a trusted colleague to get a different perspective on the issue and ensure that you are taking a wise course to address it.

Six: Think through how you want to approach the issue with the individual(s) involved for the most positive outcome. This takes time. Don't address it until you have a plan for your approach.

Seven: Have a conversation with the individual(s) involved. A conversation is different than an attack. Often in talking the situation out we come to understanding and mutually agreeable solutions.

Eight: Consider what everyone can learn from the situation. In other words, assigning blame is often not as healthy as just seeing what lessons can be learned moving forward.

Nine: It goes without saying for Christian leaders that asking for God's wisdom in the situation is critical. 

Posted from Oakdale, MN

For more help in understanding emotions in leadership, my new book Deep Influence deals with this in greater depth.

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