8 Signs You May be an Anxious Leader

In my third book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, I combine three sources of insight, the Bible, Bowen Family Systems, and Brain research. The second ‘B,’ Bowen Family Systems, refers to insights from a psychiatrist who practiced during the 60’s-80’s, Dr. Murray Bowen. His research revealed that each of us handles our anxiety, a general word for negative emotions such as fear or worry, in different ways. He and others have applied his insight to how leaders lead. And when a leader leads as an anxious leader, he stifles his leadership effectiveness. So, what might indicate that you are an anxious leader?

These seven signs might indicate that your leadership is being negatively affected by how you handle your anxiety. Mentally check which ones are sometimes true of you.

  1. I can mindlessly yield to others’ opinions to avoid more anxiety.
  2. I sometimes blow up at others too easily.
  3. I tend to focus on others’ reactions and responses to me.
  4. I can be easily and quickly hurt.
  5. I often see myself as a victim.
  6. I resort to either/ or, yes/ no or black/ white thinking.
  7. I sometimes cast blame or falsely criticize others.
  8. I often entertain threats from others (for example, “I’m going to leave the church unless you . . .”).*

How many did you check? If you checked two or more, your leadership may be hindered by how you handle your anxiety.

So, if traits of an anxious leader play out in your leadership. what can you do?

Here are four simple suggestions that might help.

  1. Everyday do an emotional check in. In other words, during your devotional time each morning, check in with your emotions. Ask yourself, “What emotions am I currently feeling?” Simply being aware of them will help you moderate their influence. The term is called meta-cognition, thinking about what you are thinking about and feeling.
  2. Name the negative emotion you feel. Unlike what our culture sometimes subtly encourages us, “keep those negative emotions from leaking out,” naming your negative emotions actually quiets the emotional centers of the brain (the limbic system), thus allowing our thinking centers to take charge (the pre-frontal cortex). Healthy leaders lead from a clear mind, not from muddy emotions.
  3. Memorize scriptures that speak to anxiety. When you feel anxious, quote Scripture. The more we memorize Scripture the more our brain connections and networks actually change to reflect the truth of Scripture. It’s called neuroplasticity. Here’s one of my favorite scriptures I’ve memorized that I often quote when I feel anxious.
    • Phil. 4.6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
  4. Share your feelings with someone else who is/has faced a similar situation.  A recent study revealed that when we share anxious emotions with others facing similar issues, the emotions are moderated. So, having a network of pastors who face similar challenges as you, and sharing with them your struggles can help you deal with your own anxiety.

What have you found that helps you deal with anxiety?

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*Source: Stone, Charles (2014-01-01). People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership (Kindle Locations 2983-2987). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. Permission granted for use.

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