Who is the most anxious person in your organization?
Perhaps your answer is “me”! Whether you put your finger on yourself or someone else comes to mind, anxiety in an organization is an exhausting, distracting, and sometimes frightening thing.
When we encounter a person who is anxious, our own anxiety level tends to skyrocket. Driven by our own anxiety we want to do anything possible to either eliminate the source of the anxiety or, often, to eliminate the anxious person!
And anxiety has a nasty tendency to spread like wildfire through an organization, sapping morale, cutting productivity, eroding trust in leadership.
If you think of anxiety as a form of resistance, though, and remember our mantra that “Resistance is your ally” you will have a better shot at managing and reducing chronic anxiety.
And remember this:
The most anxious person in an organization is always a symbol of the organization as a whole.
When a group is anxious they need more than anything else for their anxiety to be recognized and understood and brought into the open. What the group needs is a leader who is managing his or her own anxiety and in so doing creating a “holding environment” where the anxiety of a group can be acknowledged but contained. Over time, as the anxiety in the organization is reduced the very best resources and creativity of the team gets freed from focusing on anxiety to tackling the challenges the organization is facing.
Such a leader is called a non-anxious presence. There’s no bigger challenge for a leader than to be this person, especially when you own anxiety is so high.
To be a non-anxious presence on a daily basis requires balancing two emphases – self-awareness and other-centeredness.
You have to be aware that you are anxious yourself and be calm and shrewd about determining the source of that anxiety. Realize that the anxiety of others is not primarily about you but that you are the one in position to help them navigate and manage it. Like resistance, anxiety can be your friend in that it reveals deeper forces at work in an organization and gives you the chance to adjust your strategies. Anxiety is both an early warning sign and a gift to a leader – pointing the way to new ways of thinking and being, new approaches to chronic problems. But you can’t lead in this until you have the courage to name and face your own anxiety.
Once you have learned to be a non-anxious presence in your own life you have the opportunity to turn to others. Anxious people are not your problem; they are given to you as a trust. Your job as a leader is to create the holding environment where their anxieties can be acknowledged, honestly named, and dealt with by truth tempered with compassion.
Such a holding environment results in business measurables such as increased productivity , energy for customers and clients, and productivity. But it also results in more fully engaged employees who are willing to give more and more of their discretionary energy because they are being honored and affirmed.
As always for a leader, your fundamental challenge is not to save your organization, but to save yourself! And that can start with the very real anxiety you may be experiencing.
One of your best resources for managing your own anxiety and that of your team is working with a leadership coach, someone who can serve as a trusted advisor to navigate the sometimes choppy waters of leadership. If you or a member of your team could benefit from such an ally, we would love to talk to you – we have a deep bench of experienced and skilled coaches who can serve as a non-anxious presence for you! Simply click here to get more information.