Managing Anxiety as a Leader (HL101)

Managing Your Own Anxiety

Your congregation can only be as healthy as the people who are leading it. We’ve been learning that the congregation is a system and that every person’s presence and functioning has an effect on the functioning of the whole. 

Anxiety is a difficult issue for those in congregational leadership because we can easily distract ourselves from having to face it. (In the language of Adaptive Leadership, this is called “work avoidance.)  Edwin Friedman in his book A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, wrote that “the chronic anxiety in American society has made the imbibing of data and technique addictive precisely because it enables leaders not to have to face their selves.”  (One of the key chapters from this book is available under the optional materials, but I recommend the book for any leader’s library.)

Work avoidance can manifest in different ways.  We direct our energy towards tangibles such as a building campaign, redesigning the website, or posting community events on Facebook. As Friedman sees it, we absorb ourselves in data and technique, so that we don’t actually have to do the hard work of facing ourselves.

We start by doing the hard work of facing ourselves and not hiding behind our history, success, or credentials. Friedman is helpful on this point when he writes, “Family problems can often be resolved by having the parents or partners focus on and work at unresolved issues in their families of origin. By the same token, leaders must not only develop vision, persistence, and stamina, but also understand that the problems they encounter may stem from their own unsolved family issues, their organization’s past, sabotage in response to their effective leadership, or a combination of these factors.” If you are a church leader who has relational issues with a spouse, friends, or family members, your work might begin by seeking out professional help to begin sorting through those issues. This could be a licensed marriage and family therapist or pastoral counselor. We start facing ourselves when we start to explore and understand who we are in light of how we were raised and what we have experienced. This journey leads us to a place of better emotional health, which in turn allows us to adequately work with our anxiety in a positive manner. It allows us to be leaders who don’t lead out of our own emotional reactivity, but instead out of a place of self-differentiation.

If you are a church leader and you find yourself struggling with anxiety, please consider working on your own personal faith development, emotional health and self-awareness.  Encourage the other leaders to do the same.  And please also know that you are not alone!



10 Things You Can Do Right Now to Reduce Anxiety in Your Congregation by Susan Beaumont



A Society in Regression – from A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by Edwin H. Friedman (pp. 51-94)

Dealing with Difficult People by Peter Steinke

Understanding Emotional Intelligence: The Amygdala Hijack




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