How to manage anxiety to be a better leader

How many different sources of anxiety are you experiencing right now? If we could compare our anxiety levels with the index of a forest fire, our current level would be ‘Extreme.’

Like many people, I alternate between multiple sources of anxiety. We feel anxious about the health of our communities and the state of our global economy. We are deeply saddened about the impact on millions of people who have lost their jobs. We worry about the safety of people who have to work on the front lines, especially healthcare workers who lack sufficient personal protective equipment. Many people are experiencing anxiety about isolation, and worried that it will last for many months. On a deeply primal level we are all concerned about our own mortality. 

How does your behaviour shift when you are anxious?

 As I wrote in a post on managing anxiety, the first step is to recognize that you are anxious. I look for tell-tale changes in my behaviour as anxiety triggers my reactive tendencies: 

  • I shift into overdrive, propelled by a need to ‘do something’
  • I become more critical of those around me
  • I lose patience and become irritable 

When our reactive tendencies flare up, leadership effectiveness decreases swiftly, and dramatically. Once I notice my self spiralling, I am grateful to have the flexibility to simply drop everything and go for a long walk alone, meditate in nature (while practicing physical distancing) or practice yoga. Ironically, as I think about people who lack this privilege of flexibility, I feel anxious.

What are your reactive tendencies?

As a certified practitioner in the Leadership Circle, I know that anxiety causes people to experience reactive tendencies across three dimensions. We all have a profile, and it’s usually a blend of multiple tendencies which we use to respond to the sources of our anxiety. Everyone has certain tendencies that are more pronounced than others. 

Reactive tendencies are strengths being used in ways that do not serve you.

Here are the three types of reactive tendencies in the Leadership Circle approach. These are not ‘bad things’ you need to stop doing. They are strengths that help you manage perceived personal risks, instead of cultivating high-performance for the team:

  • Controlling (gift of willpower). Do you become more autocratic or demanding? Perhaps you shift into overdrive, powering through crisis situations? Maybe you focus on getting things done, without considering employee experience or relationships?
  • Protecting (gift of intellect). Do you become more aggressive or argumentative? Perhaps you avoid people or situations that cause stress? Maybe you become more ego-centric or feel a stronger need to be right? 
  • Complying (gift of heart). Do you become passive, unable to act despite knowing the right course of action? Are you more likely to be conservative and play it safe? Perhaps you focus primarily on how other people feel, sometimes at the expense of making difficult decisions?

Reactive tendencies undermine team effectiveness.

I am willing to bet that a few of these tendencies show up for you. It’s human nature. I also suspect you recognize how anxiety influences changes in behaviour for your colleagues. Can you see how these tendencies undermine your leadership effectiveness and team performance?

*NEW* Complimentary Coaching Clinics

We will help you pinpoint your reactive tendencies and manage anxiety to be a better leader during this crisis. First, we will identify your reactive tendencies using the free Leadership Circle self-assessment. Working in small groups, a certified coach will discuss the best way to move forward based on your reactive profile. You will also learn more about the reactive tendencies of others, which will help you support colleagues or direct reports.

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith

Jeff is the Founder & CEO of SupportingLines. He is also a certified Master Corporate Executive Coach, seasoned C-suite business leader and yoga instructor.

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