How Should Leaders Deal with Anxiety?
By: Randy Wolken, President & CEO
These are often anxious times. In a fast-pace world, we can often feel like the future is beyond our control – and maybe even beyond our understanding. As we look at what confronts our businesses, it is sometimes difficult to know what to do next. We can begin to drown in our own uncertainty and fear. As leaders, our teams look to us for answers on what to do next. Well, what should be done next?
Researchers tell us that we have two parts to our brain. Some define our brain as both the “ancient brain” and the “logical brain.” Our ancient brain is said to have been programmed to react to stress with either a “fight” or “flight” reaction. It is what kept us alive when we were being attacked by the saber tooth tiger. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am glad my great, great …. great grandparents had such a brain – and reaction. It has allowed our species to survive. However, there are not too many saber tooth tigers around today. But, our brain does not know the difference between an immediate threat and a more distant challenge. When we get over-stressed, we can easily lash out at others or withdraw from the situation. Either is a poor decision. And, it can be a very fast reaction in the wrong environment.
The other part of our brain developed more recently. It is the one that processes and thinks through situations looking for answers. It’s our “logical brain.” Leaders can be most effective if they engage this part of their brain. In fact, it is usually for this capacity that leaders are promoted, respected, and followed. However, a thoughtful reaction is not always a leader’s first reaction – because we can let our ancient brain take over. And, as we now know, this causes us to “fight or flee.” Not a good response to a tough and important area for clear headed decision making.
What makes the logical brain so effective is that it allows us to arrive at solutions or begin a process to get our outcomes. As we see in our day-to-day leadership challenges, if we can effectively deal with our anxiety – and get beyond our initial impulses we can put to use our significant skills, people networks, and process-building teams.
To me, focus is the critical skill I need to build to stay calm and committed to productive solutions. How about you? What is the critical skill or habit that allows you to act rationally to gain solutions versus reaction out of your anxiety? Leaders need to be prepared for how they will react. Why? Because in doing so we can demonstrate for our team how best to handle our next stress-filled, anxiety producing challenge.