A Leader’s Anxiety

March 26, 2018 Open Leadership No Comments

As a leader, you are always closer to a feeling of anxiety.

As a leader, you look more than others into uncharted territories. There you encounter the unknown, which always brings nearer the unknown within oneself, the principally not knowable within oneself, the own part of psyche that one is not conscious of. Psychologist C.G. Jung called this ‘the shadow,’ a fairly good term. A shadow is indistinct, immaterial yet present, ‘dark’ and sometimes a bit spooky. It always follows you yet you can never grab it. You can hide it by turning off the light, yet if you turn on the light, it’s there again. It’s you and it’s not you. With the light in front, you can feel it behind your back.

Looking into the unknown inside yourself is not always a pleasant experience.

It may lead to anxiety, which is not fear, not even ‘very much fear’. The difference is clear: fear is for something conceptually distinct outside oneself. Anxiety is for one’s own ‘inner strength’ when it is felt as at least somewhat out of ego-control.

As a leader, there is frequently also the fear of being found ‘incompetent’.

It goes further: you have a symbolic function, yet this is not immediately graspable, which is inherent to symbolic functions. You have to rely on something out of your conscious control. There again, anxiety lurks.

A huge part of the ‘power’ of a leader, the ‘mystique’, arises from playing the symbolic role for a group, thus being a direct relief for the individuals’ anxiety. But: at the price of being the one who has to deal with it while bearing this responsibility to others. It makes a leader lonely.

Sooner or later, a real leader has to deal with anxiety.

Contrary to a non-leader boss, he willingly bears it on his shoulders. It’s part of his job.

Some advice to relieve this anxiety:

  • See yourself as basically OK. What you experience, is common.
  • Have a clear goal that you care about, and a clear action plan you can follow.
  • Talk about it with someone who really This may even be someone you lead, or your spouse, your child…
  • Look at your anxiety as a partner in your leadership journey. It can help you and even wants to help you if you relate to it non-judgmentally.
  • Put in your toolkit some ‘quick relaxation’ techniques. Knowing it’s there, is already relaxing.
  • You can feel supported and yet be a great leader.
  • Focus on serving, more than on keeping status.
  • Try to feel in control at a higher level.
  • Listen deeply to others, seeing their anxiety and their wish for you to support them at a symbolic level. They probably also wish to support you, especially if you are a good leader to them.
  • Try to do what you love and love what you do.
  • See yourself as responsible, not ‘guilty’ of anything.
  • Don’t see choices as ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Choosing is a responsibility, each time again.

You are not alone.

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