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Leadership: Anxiety, Fear & Controlling Behaviors.

As we think about leading teams and particularly in a rapidly changing environment, a couple of aspects can come into play. 

The reader may remember in a previous blog I related the “Fox Hole” factor in a battle..

Max Lucado had a great illustration that pictures the perfect difference between Anxiety and Fear.  He pointed out a key truth that :

“Anxiety and Fear are cousins but they are not the same”

Max pointed out a great illustration that if I went out into my front lawn and saw a rattlesnake……

FEAR would make us say that:

You know when I go out in the front lawn, I am truly going to watch out for rattlesnakes!

ANXIETY would make us say:

You know….I am never going into my front lawn again!

The other key point in this is that when Anxiety is taking hold of someone, the person attempts to try to “Control” everything around them. In other words, “Control Freak” behavior can come to the surface.   They can often become paralyzed in decision making.  Especially since they are rarely in control of everything.  This anxiety can make us not act unless we feel that we can control it.

In leading our teams, we must also be aware of the extent to which we can instill anxiety within them.  One line from the movie “Hunt for Red October” is illustrative.  There was a scene after the officer and the small boarding team on the submarine were all that was left.  In a short meeting with the crew the officer mentioned “I do not know how we will get there……we will but don’t know right now how”.

Right after that, he and his NCO were sitting in the galley having a cup of coffee.  The NCO told him candidly “Don’t you ever tell the crew what you did in there.  In the Navy, the Captain always knows….even when he doesn’t”.

The key aspect is that there are times when the leader can be transparent.  However, the leader must be aware of the extent to which he/she is instilling Anxiety in the team.  That the leader should never do.  If the leader does instill this, Control Freak behavior will arise and that will probably engender divisions in the team when more than one attempts to control arise….even for those situations that cannot be controlled.

Also, as the leader begins to experience within him or herself aspects of Anxiety, they must pull back from Control Freak behavior.  They must model the correct response to Anxiety and to ensure that it does not paralyze or get in the way of their team.

As John Wayne said “Courage is to feel fear and mount up anyway” and people can feel fear and still perform.  Anxiety is deeper and can paralyze the team.  Keep anxiety from building drag that holds your team back from success and radical results.

Randy Swaim, Coaching for Relevance, LLC


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