My friend Dr. Tom Cairns, the former Senior Vice-President of Human Resources at NBC, has written a great piece about the anxiety that is produced by a downturn in performance by an excutive, who then reactively heads for his magic wand and bag of tricks. Read more ... Razzle Dazzle and Other Management Tricks. In the end, the executive as tried every trick he knows and he's still out of a job. What happened? How could this be? I'm a razzle dazzle guy?
How would real leadership respond in Tom's scenario?
I'm learning that leadership is being able to take maximum responsibility for one’s own emotional being and destiny rather than blaming others or the context.
I'm learning that leadership begins with the leader’s capacity to take responsibility for his or her own emotions and functioning.
Leadership is not so much about "doing" ... it's about "being." It's about personal functioning in the face of anxiety.
- Being able to take a calm stand in an intense emotional system;
- Being able to say‘I’ when others are demanding ‘we.’
- Being able to contain one’s reactivity to the reactivity of others, which includes the ability to avoid being polarized;
- Being able to maintain a non-anxious presence in the face of anxious others.
- Being able to stop being one of the system’s emotional dominoes.
- Being clear about one’s own personal values and goals;
We really can't blame people, bad luck, an unprecedented series of events. “The problem”will always be with us. There will always be anxiety in our lives. Leaders need to learn how to be observers of relational systems. If we can learn to observe the system while we are working on “the problem” we will be less anxious. Consequently we will be able to lead.
Ed Friedman who applied Murray Bowen's Family Systems Theory to leadership taught that there are at least three dimensions to leadership understood in this way: self-regulation, self-definition, and connectedness in response to resistance.*
1) Self-Regulation (external)
Anxiety is THE normal human condition to the perception of threat, real or imagined. The leader engaged in self-differentiation accepts the challenge of intentionally regulating one's reactivity to anxiety, focusing upon the modification of one's own behavior rather than the functioning of others.
2) Self-Definition (internal)
To define self is to give expression to the thoughts, values and goals one holds dear. It includes taking stands. To use biblical language, it is self-revelation. I have come to understand this as one of my major tasks as a pastor. My responsibility is to get clear about what I think and believe and communicate those thoughts and beliefs in words and actions—not to get others straight about what they should think and believe.
3) Connectedness (How one responds to resistance).
Self-differentiating leaders work at self-regulation and self-definition while maintaining connection to their relational systems. They realize that they cannot affect an emotional system of which they are not a part. It is especially important to maintain this connectedness when resistance is encountered because of the leader's self-differentiating behavior. At such times a leader is tempted to either give up or cut off. But if the leader persists, does not withdraw or quit and remains connected and on course, a system stands the best chance of dealing creatively with challenge.
To be a great leader is to become a great leader of self. When I think of every leader I admire, this is the key quality. They are a “non-anxious presence,”
Dr. Murray Bowen said, “When any key member of an emotional system
- can control his/her own emotional reactiveness …
- and accurately observe the functioning of the system and his/her part in it, …
- and he/she can avoid counter-attacking when he/she is provoked, …
- and when he/she can maintain an active relationship with the other key members without withdrawing or becoming silent, …
… (then) the entire system will change in a series of predictable steps.”
*Source: Lawrence Matthews, who wrote an excellent synopsis of Friedman's application of Bowen Family System Theory.