The new year is underway, and I’m sure that you are eager to see God do some great things in your ministry context. As a leader, you will likely experience joy, frustration, encouragement and anxiety at some point this year. So, as you continue to lead faithfully in the sphere that God has given to you, I wanted to pass along some thoughts from our friend Steve Cuss. Steve is a pastor and the author of Managing Leadership Anxiety, and I know that his words below will help you.
By Steve Cuss
I was 24 and a week into marriage when I walked into my first intensive care unit as a trauma chaplain. I had never seen a dead body before, and had never experienced deep grief before. To say I was green doesn’t begin to describe it.
Multiple times a day I would walk into rooms of extreme emotion; people dealing with some of the worst moments of their life. My job was to help them navigate those moments and I quickly learned just how much my own internal triggers were influencing my ability to be present to people. Their anxiety was infecting my own. In family systems theory, this is known as ‘chronic anxiety’ and all faith leaders carry a large dose of unaddressed chronic anxiety.
Chronic Anxiety isn’t just worry – it is any response, anything you do when you don’t know what to do, or any response when you aren’t getting what you think you need. An anger outburst can be an anxious response, so can cynicism. But also, laying on a couch and binge-watching TV shows can be an anxious response.
Chronic Anxiety is a combination of triggers, false beliefs, and pressures we all face that stop us from being fully human, fully present to people and to the God who loves us.
As a chaplain I also learned how to pay attention to how chronic anxiety spreads in a group – how it is contagious and how sometimes the most anxious person in the room can hold the most power. That experience combined with a deep dive into Systems Theory has served me for years – I use these tools every day of my leadership. The journey from being managed by anxiety to managing it is a long, slow journey but the first step is to increase your awareness through these two simple questions:
1) Where does anxiety start for you?
2) How do you know when you are anxious?
Where does anxiety start for you? Anxiety always starts physiologically, we first feel it in a spinning mind, a racing heart or a tightening gut. It might manifest in all three for you, but it usually starts somewhere. If you can figure out where it starts, you can intervene earlier and begin to manage it. Early intervention is everything in anxiety management. Once you know, you can move through it.
How do you know when you are anxious? We are way too tolerant and patient with the anxiety we all carry. I believe we should approach it with much more suspicion because anxiety is a spiritual dark force that competes for the space where our awareness of God resides. It is very difficult to be present to your anxiety and to God at the same time. So knowing when you are anxious can become an asset in helping you encounter God in more profound and freeing ways.
You can also notice group anxiety. We spill our unaddressed anxiety onto each other and suddenly people are interrupting, needing to have the last word, feeling shut down, having the meeting after the meeting. Think about the team you lead: who always has the last word, who never speaks up? What recurring, predictable patterns can you identity?
Finally, pay attention to process. Looking for recurring, predictable patterns in your relationships and then learning how to break free of them can be a game changer in anxiety management.
I travel nationally and internationally hosting workshops on internal and group anxiety. What if we could actually break free of some individual and organizational patterns? What if we could experience God’s grace as a leader, rather than mostly sharing it with others? That is why this coming March 10th and 11th in Colorado, I am hosting a deeper dive – a two day interactive workshop that will cover these and many more tools. You will come away with a unique understanding into your own triggers and also tools to help you experience peace amidst leadership challenges. You will also be equipped to pay attention to organizational anxiety and learn how to break patterns. This isn’t a conference, it is a round table style workshop — ideal for teams or those wanting to try on these very concepts in the moment.
More information and tickets are here. Leadership Network subscribers get $35 off per ticket when using the coupon code LEADNET.
This is difficult but necessary work, and I believe the stakes are at an all time high. Leadership burnout and failure is escalating, and the mental health of many good leaders is deteriorating. Putting these tools into practice takes time, but the results speak for themselves.