Anxiety is the main axis around which all the other symptoms of burnout revolve and it's especially so for leaders, whose distress might be amplified by the distress of the people they lead.
Many of us are promoted into leadership without much training, and rarely do we receive instruction on how to lead high-performing teams. So it's likely that however we worked prior to leadership is how we fundamentally still work, but with added responsibility and anxiety.
The question we can ask ourselves then is not HOW we want to lead but WHO we want to be, as leaders.
So today, I'm addressing the stigma of leadership anxiety, how to relate to it and how to manage it.
Ep#1 to #3 Burnout recovery
Ep#4 Anxiety https://www.burnouttoleadership.com/1849743/9459162-ep-4-how-to-manage-anxiety-at-work
Ep#5 Overwhelm and Overwork https://www.burnouttoleadership.com/1849743/9459179-ep-5-how-to-fix-overwork-and-overwhelm
Ep#36 Championing Yourself https://www.burnouttoleadership.com/1849743/10780250-ep-36-championing-yourself
Ep#78 I have to Solve Every Problem https://www.burnouttoleadership.com/1849743/12754182-ep-78-i-have-to-solve-every-problem
Ep#80 Taming Your Inner Critic https://www.burnouttoleadership.com/1849743/12863246-ep-80-top-5-tips-to-tame-your-inner-critic
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0:00:09.4 Dex: Hi, everyone. My name's Dex Randall. And this is the Burnout to Leadership Podcast, where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work.
0:00:23.1 Dex: Hello, my friends. This is Dex. I am, once again, very happy to be with you in today's episode on Anxiety in Leadership, because I think anxiety is really the main axis around which all of the other symptoms of burnout revolve. And for the purposes of this episode, when I say leadership, what I really mean is any internal sense that you are the strength on which others rely. And this is for any context, not just business.
0:00:58.5 Dex: And, I'll say right up front, perhaps for the men listening, you feel that you have a need to be the strong one, as a leader, a provider, the rock of the family, unbreakable. Many men do come to me and tell me that their wives expect them to be strong and need them to be strong. So, in fact, they can't admit if they need help or express their fears. Or perhaps you're a woman carrying the emotional load of the family and maybe also juggling a career. And if either of those is you, if you identify yourself as a leader in any way, okay, so you are trying to be the strong one, but perhaps living this life of tortured probably private anxiety, might not be supporting your ability to live up to that leadership role.
0:01:48.1 Dex: And what if becoming... If living is only half of you on the outside, what if that's costing you equilibrium, resourcefulness, self-expression, the very powers you're really trying to embody? And what if being permeable and authentic actually lets you tap into even greater power, strength, dependability, and resilience? What if that was true? Because I think once you've got the emotional bandwidth, you can keep yourself out of chronic anxiety and the ferocious mind chatter that comes with that, the fast and furious inner critic that brings on more irritability, frustration, procrastination, and conflict. It lowers your productivity. It probably loses your sense of reward.
0:02:48.8 Dex: So really that's kind of the setting for this episode. And why am I talking specifically about anxiety in the context of leadership? Well, the old model of leadership 1.0, let's call it, was all brittle strength. I never say die attitude. This needs to command, and respect, this showing external fortitude, whatever was happening internally. And all of that, of course, was all well and good if you are commanding a battalion. But in regular life, it's really failing to accept and have compassion for the actual full human that we are with our range of talents, and strengths, and the inevitable vulnerability and weak spots. It's denying our true nature, which really is hissing into the wind of performance, true performance, reward and connection.
0:03:46.8 Dex: And I do get pretty mad about the stigma awarded to anxiety even these days that haves us really hiding who we are and making it difficult for us to go and get help because mental health challenges are almost endemic to being human at this stage of the game. And so really how is the shame of stigma helping that? Anyhow, so that's the setting.
0:04:10.0 Dex: So I'm gonna do this episode in two parts. And part one is investigating the anxiety experience and how you see yourself in relation to anxiety. And then in part two, we'll explore how to begin managing it. And I'm going to refer to several other episodes of the podcast that provide you with more tools to work with anxiety. They'll be in the show notes. And especially I'd point out episode number four on managing anxiety.
0:04:42.6 Dex: So, part one, think about your own anxiety patterns, your own landscape and see if you can relate with any of the things I'm about to say 'cause I want to promise you two things, in a minute. Because anxiety can be worked with so that no matter how extreme or frequent or intense or debilitating your anxiety is, no matter how it's entrenched itself in your psyche habits and demeanour, or how much it's worsened over time, no matter how much it negatively impacts you, your work, relationships, your ability to be resilient, joyful and contented, no matter how much it stimulates conflict in your family relationships and partnerships or raises parenting anguish. No matter how much it robs you of your sense of belonging or worth, ability to participate socially or view of yourself as adequate, functional, or performance. No matter how much you withdraw inside yourself in pain, shame, self-protection or self-rumination. No matter how it affects your health, sleep, digestion, exercise, weight management, self-care, wellbeing. No matter how much it feeds into unhelpful habits, addictions, or coping mechanisms.
0:06:02.7 Dex: No matter how much it hampers your mental powers, memory, concentration, attention or problem-solving, or your emotional strength, leaving you depleted, miserable, depressed, irritable, pessimistic, demotivated. No matter how much you dread each coming day, worry you can't acquit yourself of your responsibilities that the load's too much to carry, that you're gonna let people down or let yourself down. No matter how much it's caused you to feel powerless, helpless, out of control, destabilised, and maybe a bit lost. And perhaps your career is at risk or your family's future. In spite of all those things that I've just described, which might have you spinning around on this axis of anxiety, it might cause you to feel alone with your problem.
0:06:55.7 Dex: No matter how bad you feel your anxiety has got, I want to promise you these two things. Number one, you're not alone. Anxiety is probably the biggest growth experience of humans in Western culture, and it impacts our whole population. I see it as a pandemic. This, of course, you already know, which knowledge does probably not afford you any reduction in your anxiety. Because if we're canaries in a coal mine, it really doesn't help us to see other canaries in there.
0:07:28.4 Dex: But not only are you not alone, anxiety is now perfectly normal. If you can't control it, that's normal too. No shame, no blame. You're simply living in a society where anxiety has been stimulated and cultivated over many decades, and feelings of separation and disconnection are the norm.
0:07:49.7 Dex: The way we live right now is so far from the social support that used to bind us together in a time where nothing much changed for generations, where people stayed put and felt integrated into communities. And the rules they lived by remained relatively stable too. Now, of course, we are so dispersed, lost, and separated in really deeply significant ways that affect our humanity. We're roaming free. We connect very superficially from our heads, not our hearts, our values, and our gut-level experience. We spend time massaging our personal brand, hiding all of our inconvenient truths, which are really the connective tissue of humanity. So we've kind of gotten out of touch with not just our roots and our lands and our people, but also ourselves. We've forgotten at a basic level who we even are.
0:08:49.7 Dex: And, of course, as you know, our nervous systems don't like that very much, do they? By evolutionary design, we're communal creatures. Our nervous systems connect with each other below the level of our consciousness, signalling a felt sense of either safety or danger every time we meet each other. And our survival depends on this. It's a protective membrane between us if you like. And how's that supposed to work over Zoom or Instagram? So you're not alone in anxiety. Most of us share a kind of subversive experience of anxiety. No shame, no blame. So that is my first promise about anxiety, that you are not alone with it.
0:09:38.7 Dex: And my second promise is that anxiety can't be eliminated, but it can be tamed. It's malleable. And if you experience frequent or severe anxiety, that's slightly not the end of the story for you. And I think it's really important to emphasize this because sometimes change can feel impossible. I really don't think that it is. And just to say here that some people do have anxiety that they or their medical supporters feel need professional mental health support. And for all of you listening, please hear this, please seek whatever support makes sense for you because you're not saving yourself or your people by staying stuck in anxiety.
0:10:30.4 Dex: Nevertheless, I do believe we can each work more effectively with anxiety than just accept it, feel pulled down by it, wish it would go away, and put up with it anyway. It's my personal experience, and it's what I've seen very strongly in my clients and people I work with, that we have much more agency than that. There are tools, concepts, and practices that anyone can adopt that will reduce the effect of a spinning, anxious brain. By this, I really mean we can cultivate new habits that reduce the frequency, severity, and helplessness of anxiety. So my second promise is, that there is something you can do about persistent anxiety.
0:11:19.1 Dex: So let's jump into part two, Managing Anxiety. And I think the first step has to be if we want to relinquish some anxiety, we need to change. And our egos don't like change. So the first thing you'll need to do is commit to change. And I would suggest to do that, you set a goal perhaps to change your leadership style.
0:11:45.7 Dex: And for me, this means really moving from the outdated vision of this invincible leader, ploughing relentlessly on through tasks, dispassionate, exacting, carrying the burdens of the world. That kind of leadership model is one that creates both a great deal of anxiety and a great deal of separation from our fellows. It's really inefficient and expensive to run. It's a model that typically leads to burnout. So you can retire that blueprint of leadership for yourself if you like. Thank goodness. And then the question to ask is, "Okay, am I ready to let go of that style if that's the style I'm using now?"
0:12:32.6 Dex: Then you might choose to move towards what I call leadership 2.0. This is being fully human, embracing your full spectrum of attributes, emotions, experiences, strengths and weaknesses, and having compassion for that whole bundle of your humanity in order that you can connect more deeply with others and express yourself and your performance at in fact a much higher and more robust level through the bonds and mutual support of teamwork rather than trying to go it alone. You can become a much stronger multiplier and mentor through your full human experience.
0:13:13.9 Dex: Even though I know, you must be keen to protect your professional identity if you're in burnout at work particularly or in a public realm. You're probably keen to protect your reputation, perhaps your income, your career, or your status. So what you need to do then is you'll need to make a really good case for changing your leadership style and setting a goal for who you want to be as a leader rather than what you want to do. This is really all about your human qualities and soft skills, 'cause fundamentally people may respect you for what you do, but they will connect with you through your flaws. And it's that bonding that is a new level of power that's probably available to you that you may not be inhabiting yet.
0:14:02.7 Dex: So when you're considering this, ask yourself, is the jury already in on whether my current style of leadership is working out for me or do I want a new model? And by the way, one of the episodes I'm gonna refer you to in the podcast is number 78. If you are driven by the urge to solve every problem yourself and struggling to let go of that, listen to episode 78. So that's really step one, deciding to and committing to change.
0:14:32.4 Dex: And then step two is, to acknowledge that you've probably become accustomed to living in anxiety. And anxiety has an addictive quality. Because being in a cycle of anxiety removes you from the present moment, which is where discomfort can be. You kind of take flight into this loop of anxious thinking. And I find it a little bit dissociative myself. I'm no longer in reality. And also, stress hormones themselves are addictive, that surge of adrenaline. So anxiety, I think, really is recursively awful, but it's familiar, and you can trap yourself in it.
0:15:14.4 Dex: So I think what we need to do is become willing to both realize we aspire to lead in a new way and also to change habits. And that requires that we break up with anxiety. Now, breaking up with anxiety doesn't depend on changing the circumstances of our role. And whether it's at home, at work or whatever, we might argue that our roles become more rule-bound, more relentlessly demanding. And whether that's true or not, we can still change our anxiety behaviours. So step two is really deciding to break up with anxiety. And listen to episode number four on managing anxiety and how to do that.
0:16:00.3 Dex: And step three is, we can learn to relate with ourselves, the demands of our roles, our performance, and what other people think about us in a new way. We can retrain our inner critic. And so how do you think that would affect anxiety? Anxiety is really just our fear of the future. It's our subconscious thoughts about what might go wrong. So if we can manage that, we're basically home and hosed, as I say around here. So listen to episode 80 on Taming Your Inner Critic.
0:16:30.6 Dex: I've covered here the first three steps to follow if you want to manage your leadership anxiety. So number one is choosing to change your personal leadership style to be more human-centric. Number two is deciding to break up with anxiety and learning how to do that, practising how to do that. And number three is intentionally creating a new relationship with yourself and your world. And every episode in the Burnout to Leadership Podcast will help you with insights and tools to do all of those things. It's gonna support you with practical tips to emerge from burnout and establish a new style of leadership.
0:17:12.8 Dex: And I do recommend if you are new to the podcast, that you listen to the first five episodes to get started. Then I would listen specifically to episode number 36, which is Championing Yourself. And then just go ahead and listen to any episode because all of them have got these practical tips in them.
0:17:31.4 Dex: So that's kind of my whistle-stop tour of leadership anxiety. If you know somebody who's heading towards that or who's heading towards or is in burnout, please send them that podcast link from today. If you enjoy the episode yourself, please help us reach more people with burnout by rating and reviewing the podcast. I would really love that so much. And, of course, if you yourself are in burnout, listen for the link at the end. You must come and talk to me about how to recover quickly and sustainably and get back to your best performance and enjoyment and leadership at work and at home.
0:18:12.9 Dex: If you are in burnout and ready to recover, come and join my Burnout to Leadership Program. You can book in to talk with me at burnout.dexrandall.com. Just tell me what's bugging you and let's make a plan to fix it.