Emotionally Anxious Leaders: 8 Signs

My dad was an electrical engineer and filled his shop in our basement with the most amazing gizmos. Transistors, capacitors, transformers, electrical tools and every conceivable gadget lined the shelves and entertained me for hours. My favorite gadget was a neon sign transformer. A transformer is a device that either steps up or steps down current. The metal green box in a yard down your street or the cylindrical container on a telephone pole near your house is a transformer that steps down high-voltage power to 220 volts that comes into your house. So what does a transformer have to to with an emotionally anxious leader? Read on.

With my dad’s neon sign transformer, I made what is called a Jacob’s ladder. I attached two three-foot wires to the leads on each side, and bent the wires into a V. When I plugged it in, a multi-thousand volt spark started at the bottom of the V and arced to the top. In this case, the transformer stepped up the household current to over two thousand volts. My Jacob’s ladder created lots of really cool sparks that appealed to my geekish interests. And I got shocked by it only once.

A leader is like a transformer. By his responses, he can either defuse an emotional setting like a heated board meeting or can act like a step-up transformer by reacting and increasing anxiety, thus causing lots of not-so-cool sparks, as we leaders often do. Through a calm presence with emotional people, a leader can act like an emotional step-down transformer, decreasing the group’s anxiety by letting it pass through him without getting zapped.

Sometimes as leaders, however, we can characterize emotionality and anxiety one-dimensionally as defensiveness. But chronic anxiety, the low level anxiety we seem to never shake, fuels emotionality and shows up in eight ways that I call “the eight Fs of chronic anxiety.” It manifests itself differently in different people. As you read the list below, consider which F tempts you the most.

  • Fight: emotionally reacting and becoming defensive (how we usually describe emotionality)
  • Flee: emotionally or physically cutting off from others in anxious situations
  • Freeze: not knowing what to do, thus not taking a position; offering no opinion and/ or staying neutral when you should take a position
  • Fuse: losing your identity by glomming on to others’ wants and desires, compromising convictions, seeking unity at all costs and/ or trying to force everybody to be one big, happy family
  • Fixate: easily getting triangled into unhealthy relationships and conflict
  • Fix: overperforming to fix somebody else’s problems or doing for others what they should do for themselves
  • Flounder: becoming passive, underperforming, or giving up
  • Feed/ fornicate/ finances: inappropriately yielding to base impulses by turning to food, illicit sex/ pornography or inappropriate use of money

When we are tempted to deal with our anxiety with one of the 8 F’s, we must look to Jesus.

Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions. He wept when he heard that Lazarus had died. He became angry at the temple moneychangers. He felt a heavy heart in the garden of Gethsemane. Yet his behavior reflected anything but anxious reactivity.

Jesus’ response to his enemies throughout his trial and crucifixion, as 1 Peter 2: 23 illustrates, continues to amaze me.

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

Every time I recall this verse, I stand in awe. Although Jesus possessed God’s power to destroy his detractors, he didn’t. Rather, he leaned into his heavenly Father to respond appropriately to hardship. Likewise, as we lean into our heavenly Father, he gives us what we need to say no to reactivity and dealing with our anxiety in unhealthy and sinful ways.

The Bible tells us that the Lord has given us everything we need to live a godly life. Second Peter 1: 3 is so powerful as it encourages us with these words.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

God has crafted our bodies and brains, our souls and minds, and our regenerated hearts with the capability to cool our emotions in the midst of emotionality. Acting calmly when tempted to do otherwise glorifies him.

What has helped you deal with anxiety that ministry often brings?

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Used by permission. Stone, Charles (2014-01-01). People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership (Kindle Locations 2415-2432). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Are you Looking at Leadership through Rose Colored Glasses?

Sometimes a book comes across my desk that catches my attention with a unique angle on leadership. My friend, Tom Harper, just wrote one. It’s called Through Colored Glasses–how great leaders reveal reality. It’s written as a leadership fable and quite insightful. I highly recommend it. I asked Tom if I could ask him some questions about the book and here are his answers.

What prompted you to write Through Colored Glasses?

Anyone who’s been a leader has observed how people misunderstand each other, withhold information, and manipulate others to get ahead. There’s a widespread lack of honesty in workplaces (including churches).

I wrote this book to give leaders a tool to fight this trend. The story’s main lessons center on how to wield the power of truth in the office – not just by being honest and transparent, but by utilizing concepts and techniques found in the Bible to pull truth out of people.

I believe if you understand and apply the biblical principles this story teaches, you’ll reveal reality all around you, every day. As a result, you’ll be a much more effective leader.

Explain the essence of the book reflected in the title.

You’ve probably heard the saying “he wears rose-colored glasses,” describing a person that’s always optimistic, even to the point of naiveté. It’s as if they ignore reality.

Through Colored Glasses describes how most of us see the world – through lenses that are anything but rosy. We’ve got a cloud of emotions, moods and thoughts coloring our views.

When we look at each other through those off-color lenses, what do we see? We tend to interpret each other’s words and actions according to our own biases, rather than trying to understand the other person from their point of view.

Why did you choose to use a fable as the core of the book?

For me, story has always been an effective teacher, whether it’s through leadership fables by Patrick Lencioni and Ken Blanchard, biographies, true-life dramas or even novels. Plus, I’m always intrigued when a conference speaker tells his or her personal story, sharing the hard lessons they’ve learned.

As I strategized this book project, I realized the most poignant and memorable way for me to teach what I’ve learned would be through a story that brings the concepts to life.

Many nonfiction books today could be half as lengthy, without losing any meat. With this in mind, I kept this book to 100 or so pages. You can read it on a plane trip. I tried to make it fast-moving all the way to the climax, where the main lessons come into focus.

You mention filters and facades we deal with. How does a leader discover unfiltered reality in the heart of another, and in himself or herself?

One way to improve our ability to understand what someone’s thinking is to get to know the person. As leaders, though, we can’t intimately know everyone under our care.

To remedy this, we can tap the Bible’s great wisdom for understanding the motivations behind people’s words and actions. It gives us cues to watch for. I’ll give you two examples.

First, Proverbs 15:13 says, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.” Simply assessing someone’s countenance can alert us there’s something significant going on behind the scenes, urging us to move forward with sensitivity.

Another example is listening for verbal signals. Two of my favorite verses on this are also from Proverbs:

  • “The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin” (Prov. 10:8).
  • “The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly” (Prov. 12:23).

In other words, you can gauge a person’s overall wisdom by how much they respect authority and use word economy. If someone constantly announces what they think, their overall judgment is questionable. Giving them greater responsibility probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

We can apply these verses to ourselves, of course. Listen to yourself in your next few conversations. At any point are you defensive, impatient or unusually verbose? At that moment, assess what’s going on in your heart.

When I listen to myself speak, I often hear internal struggles coming through. It reminds me to entrust my worries to God – he wants us to lean on him at all times, even as words are coming out of our mouths.

What is the biggest takeaway in your book for leaders?

After more than two decades of reading leadership books and holding them up to the Bible, I’m convinced that biblical principles undergird just about all the leadership best practices you’ll come across.

So, my #1 takeaway would simply be to read the Bible for yourself, and do what it says!

___

I recommend you add this book to your reading list. You can purchase it here on Amazon.

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8 Ways Pastors can Refresh Their Tired Souls

Peter Drucker, one of the world’s greatest leadership experts, once listed what he considered the four hardest jobs in the world. Here are those four: President of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital, and a pastor. Wow, strong words from a wise man. Although I’ve not held the first three jobs, I have served as a pastor for over 35 years. It can be tough and pastors must care for their souls. Consider these 8 ways to refresh your tired soul.

  1. Do something totally different from ministry. Often pastors spend even their free time on ministry related pursuits and thoughts. Consider doing something totally different from the ministry vein. I once took improv classes I found very refreshing to my soul.
  2.  Be okay with taking care of you. Pete Scazzero, most known for emotionally healthy spirituality, learned this the hard way and wrote these words.
    • “The degree to which you love yourself corresponds to the degree to which you love others. Caring for ourselves was difficult for us to do without feeling guilty. We unwittingly thought that dying to ourselves for the sake of the gospel meant dying to marital intimacy and joy in life. We had died to something God had never intended we die to.” (www.christianity today.com/le/1998/winter/8l1063.html)
  3. Keep healthy boundaries with others. A boundary is a line that helps define those things for which we are responsible. They define who we are and who we are not; when properly managed they can bring us great freedom with others in our churches. I recommend Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s bestseller Boundaries for better understanding.
  4. Lighten up and laugh more often (not at others’ expense, though). Current research on how humor affects leadership has discovered that the most effective leaders use humor more often than less effective ones. (Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, Primal Leadership, 34).
  5. Build relationships with no ministry purpose in mind. Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message Bible paraphrase said…
    • “Pastors can lose touch with relational vitality when their relationships are driven by programmatic necessity. When this happens, pastors can lose the context for love, hope, faith, touch, and a kind of mutual vulnerability. In the midst of the congregation, pastors become lonely and feel isolated-and that isolation can be deadly to the pastoral life. Those are the conditions in which inappropriate intimacies flourish.” (http://www.alban.org/conversation.aspx?id=3280)
  6. Take care of your body through exercise, healthy eating, and adequate sleep.
  7. Master technology, don’t let it master you. I’m a techno geek. I was one of the original Mac owners and I use an iPhone and an iPad. I love electronic gadgets. I’m on Facebook. I tweet, text, e-mail, and blog. I’ve found, however, that technology can easily enslave me. It’s a battle yet when I control my technology, I’m more at peace. Interestingly, research has shown that the average worker is interrupted every eleven minutes and takes twenty-five minutes to refocus back on his job. I found that to be generally true in my life when I compulsively check e-mail.
  8. Periodically take a solo retreat. Occasionally I’ve taken a night and a day at a local retreat center. I’m usually the only one there. When I go, I think, pray, plan, write, and study. Those periodic getaways refresh my soul and help break me from the rigors of ministry, resetting my focus to respond appropriately to the stresses ministry brings.

What has helped add life to your soul as a pastor?

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12 Brainstorming Ideas that WILL Improve Team Creativity

Brainstorming can often improve creativity when you need many possible ideas. Consider these 12 suggestions the next time your team needs to generate solutions to a problem.

  1. Encourage debate, dissent, and healthy criticism of ideas. Healthy debate has shown to produce more ideas than the traditional, “don’t criticize any idea” mentality (Nemeth et al., 2004).  Set these rules beforehand, though, to keep the debate healthy and the ideas coming.
    • Don’t personally attack people.
    • Use such phrases like, “I have a different view,” “I see things differently,” or “What about this?”
    • Reiterate the other’s person’s viewpoint before offering your own.
    • Clarify the other person’s viewpoint first.
  2. Keep your creative teams diverse. Include new people and women and men.
  3. Make sure the brainstorming leader is affirming and not overbearing and that he doesn’t unintentionally drive his personal agenda.
  4. Create spaces in your office area that encourage frequent and spontaneous interactions.
  5. Don’t allow one person to dominate brainstorming sessions. Sometimes a ‘know-it-all’ can shut down creativity.
  6. Be observant of something called ‘social loafing,’ our tendency to feel less responsible for a project in a group than when doing a project alone. Some on your team may sit back and let the rest of the team generate the ideas. Guard against that. Studies with a rope tug-of-war showed that blindfolded people who believed they were pulling a rope alone pulled 18% harder than those who thought they were on a team (Karau & Hart, 1998). However, the more cohesive the group, the less social loafing.
  7. When beginning a creative session, the leader should acknowledge that everyone is on equal footing and that she wants everyone to feel that they can contribute.
  8. Before your brainstorming session, ask the team members to generate ideas on their own and to submit them in writing before the session.
  9. Be wary of too much group harmony in creative sessions. Artificial harmony that fosters a ‘too nice’ atmosphere can stifle appraisal of alternatives.
  10. When trying to solve a problem in a brainstorming session, challenge the group to present counterintuitive solutions (i.e., what’s obviously not the solution to the problem). This approach can foster even more creativity.
  11. Provide an incubation period to let ideas simmer. If you give the team a brain break and encourage daydreaming, when they come back to the problem, solutions often arise (Sio & Ormerod, 2009). Sometimes ideas come to us while doing something moderately taxing and daydreaming at the same time (i.e., taking a shower or walking on a treadmill). It’s called unconscious thought theory, UTT, (Dijksterhuis & Nordgren, 2006) that proposes that solutions to complex problems often come when we are intentionally not trying to solve them.
  12. When trying to solve problems, encourage your team to imagine themselves a year from now instead of imagining themselves tomorrow. Studies show that this time perspective fosters more creativity (Förster et al., 2004).

What has helped your brainstorming sessions be more productive?

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Reference notes

  • Nemeth, C.J., Personnaz, B., Personnaz, M. & Goncalo, J.A. (2004) The liberating role of conflict in group creativity: A study in two countries. European Journal of Social Psychology, 34 (4), pp.365–374.
  • Karau, S.J. & Hart, J.W. (1998) Group cohesiveness and social loafing: Effects of a social interaction manipulation on individual motivation within groups. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 2 (3), pp.185–191.
  • Sio, U.N. & Ormerod, T.C. (2009) Does incubation enhance problem solving? A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 135 (1), pp.94–120.
  • Dijksterhuis, A. & Nordgren, L.F. (2006) A Theory of Unconscious Thought. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1 (2), pp.95–109.
  • Förster, J., Friedman, R.S. & Liberman, N. (2004) Temporal Construal Effects on Abstract and Concrete Thinking: Consequences for Insight and Creative Cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87 (2), pp.177–189.

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.