3 Steps to Eliminate Leadership Anxiety

Success Strategy #5 for Transformational Change Leaders

by Robert S. Tipton

Leadership CAN be a anxiety-free activity.

No — seriously, I’m not making this up.

We just need to get our bearings straight, and then follow three simple steps. By doing these things, I’ve found it makes a HUGE difference in my anxiety levels related to leadership situations.

Okay, first things first. Let’s get our bearings straight.

You Lead People, You Manage Things

(Admiral Hopper hands a “nanosecond” to David Letterman)

One of my favorite quotes comes from a personal hero of mine, Admiral Grace Hopper.

Also credited with being first person to ever “debug” a computer (literally removing a moth that was blocking an electric relay switch), she said:

“You lead people, you manage things.”

(BTW — another of her sayings is this, “If you think it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.” She was one smart, irreverent, out-of-the-box woman. Like I said, she is one of my heroes.)

So — (because I think it’s a good idea, so I’ll go ahead and do it) I’ll add the word, “Always” to her saying.

You manage things, ALWAYS (whether the “thing” is a project schedule at work or the cadre of remote controls in your family room), and you lead people, ALWAYS.

Unfortunately, immature managers are confused by their titles and think they can actually manage other people. Even more unfortunate is this — these immature types will always eventually find themselves frustrated, angry, anxious, and feeling like failures.

Why? Because at some point, ALL people will REFUSE to be managed like things.

Our brains are connected to our free will, and the combination makes the idea of “being managed” impossible — given enough time. For some, this “time” limit is a few seconds, for others it may be years due to fear, threats or insecurities, but eventually the timer will go off.

Enter mutiny, rebellion, revolution.

You can predict it. Every time.

3 Steps to Eliminate Leadership Anxiety

What do you say… Let’s try a different approach — instead of becoming anxious when we try to manage people, let’s focus on these three leadership steps I’ve been fortunate enough to be taught over the years:

1. Stop Saying, “If Only…”

Here’s a challenge for you. Count the number of times a day you start a sentence with the words, “If only…”

“If only they’d drive the friggin’ speed limit… If only those clowns in Washington DC… If only they’d leave me alone to do my job… If only I didn’t get 1,000 emails a day.” Et cetera, et cetera.

Each time we say those two words, we are denying reality. The person in front of us is NOT driving the speed limit, and studies show that tailgating actually makes the person drive more slowly.

A more popular saying that fits this step is this: “Want what you have.” Anxiety disappears when we stop denying the reality of what’s around us (our staff, the economy, the politicians, etc.) and instead look to find ways to want it.

Maybe the person in front of us is driving slowly because they see the police officer we don’t. Maybe we need to do a better job with filtering our emails so that the ones we actually receive are the ones we PURPOSELY want to receive.

And maybe we need to look at how to be successful with the team(s) we are leading — let’s shift to wanting THEM to succeed as much as we want to succeed ourselves, and our entire outlook shifts.

2. Be a Coach, Not a Mentor

Maybe I’m mincing words, but being a mentor is a problem for me. Why? Because it brings up images of someone trying to mold me into a “mini” version of them. Me and mini me. In other words, a mentor seems to be someone who is saying, “This worked for me, it will work for you. Be like me and you’ll succeed.”

Okay — so maybe this approach works to a point, but eventually the “be like me” message begins to deny the special, unique qualities in the person being mentored.

That’s where being a coach comes in. Coaches are able to understand the game (the structure, the culture, the rules) and have a perspective about what system (their playbook) can be successful. However, they also recognize that the unique qualities of an individual player WITHIN the system, WITHIN the playbook, can be maximized to the overall benefit of the team.

Another way of saying this is this: “Love people where they are, not where you want them to be, but love them too much to leave them where they are…”

In other words, there’s no pressure to MAKE anyone into anything before we see them as special and unique. We start with seeing others as special, and then we add our motivation to make them even MORE special. That’s an amazing place to be — on both sides.

3. Be Attached to Outcomes — Plural

I’m fascinated by the number of managers who “push” their teams to create ONLY the outcome (singular) that the manager deems as valid. This process requires unbelievable amounts of energy, and the results are usually FAR less than the potential available to the “manager.”

Why? Because the manager sees the process as being all about convincing, selling, creating buy-in, and punitive consequences for anyone who might try to color outside the lines. Because of their fear that something might go differently than their vision, they run around controlling everything. And, their anxiety levels are off the chart.

We’ve all been subjected to situations like this, and here’s how we start behaving:

“Don’t think. Don’t offer different opinions. Just keep your head down and say yes.”

Unfortunately, I’ve yet to meet ANYONE who always has THE RIGHT answer, every time. Sometimes we all have the right answer, and always someone has the right answer, but one person NEVER has THE right answer, always.

Instead, leaders need to foster environments where it’s acceptable, encouraged even, to have more than one right answer in every situation.

If you come with a preconceived notion of “the right answer,” not only are you limiting the special gifts of those whom you are leading from contributing to new right answer(s), you’re also depriving your organization from better options.

Leave 1,000 different ways for the universe to help you succeed.

Transcend Our Need to Manage, Become Leaders

What do you think? Was Admiral Hopper right when it comes to managing things and leading people?

Obviously, I do…

We need to transcend the belief that a title of foreman, supervisor, manager, director, VP, president, CEO, grand poobah, gives us “license” to manage people like things. It’s about treating others the way we’d like to be treated (BTW — all major religions, schools of philosophy, etc. have a saying that’s very much like the Golden Rule. Check out this link).

Let’s stay out of the “anxiety-develops-anger-which-causes-rebellion trap.” What do you say? Instead, I encourage you to follow the “3 Steps” I’ve shared here.

Your anxiety will dissipate — maybe even disappear, and you won’t miss it.

I promise.

Here’s a video that might help with other kinds of anxiety — it’s one of my “Live Unstuck Coaching Moments,” and it focuses on helping Worry Warts (like me) to relax.


For More On Transformational Change Leadership,
Please Check Out These Other Posts from Our Blog:

• Want to Do Something New? Start As a Beginner!
• What ‘Wants To’ Happen for You Today?
• How You See the Future Changes Everything!
• Get a Renewed Attitude and Stop ‘Managing’ Change!
• 9 Stages of Transformational Change
• 5 Essential Behaviors of Transformational Change Leaders
• 7 Core Beliefs of Transformational Change Leaders

Looking for a Transformational Change Keynote Speaker? Look No Further…


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