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© 2020 Power of One Consulting.  305 - 1220 Blackfoot Drive, Regina, Sk  S4S 6T2   ken@powerofoneconsulting.ca

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  • Dr. Ken Thiessen

Leading an Organization to Greatness - Anxious, Who ME?????


If you’re leading any organization you know there are things that keep you awake at night, or wake you in a cold sweat from what was restful sleep! If that’s your experience, there’s good news! You’re normal! No matter how big or small your organization, if you’re attempting to lead it to a place of greatness, you’re going to have those experiences. The issue is not that you wake up in a cold sweat or can’t get to sleep, it’s what you do to manage the anxiety that’s disrupting your ability to most effectively lead your organization!

The Power of Anxiety

In his book, “The Anxious Organization. Why Smart Companies Do Dumb Things” Jeffrey Miller says, “Any living organism that is not anxious is on its way to being extinct. In everything that lives, anxiety is a fundamental expression of the survival instinct.” The implication is that anxiety lurks in even the healthiest, most vibrant, growing organization waiting for the opportune moment to wreak havoc! Often we can identify or localize the cause of the anxiety. Sometimes it’s a problem employee. Other times it’s a difficult customer. Sometimes it’s inanimate factors like market conditions, the global economy, or cash flow challenges. But as tempting as it is, being able to localize the cause or source of the anxiety isn’t usually helpful. Instead what it does is suspend the collective organizational thought processes related to the challenges and problems giving rise to the anxiety. And it inhibits the organization’s ability to be all it could be!

Systems Thinking

One of the biggest challenges leaders face in managing the anxiety that pervades any organization is the temptation to view things from a linear, cause and effect perspective. We’ve been taught to think that way but in reality organizational life is never that simple. It’s ALWAY complex. The solution lies not in just understanding the individual parts or components of an organization. What’s much more important is understanding the inter-relationships between the various components. That problem employee functions in the context of other relationships within the organization. That challenging customer has probably been given “permission” (knowingly or unknowingly) by those within your organization to continue to be challenging, or the customer is raising legitimate concerns which remain unaddressed or unresolved. Either way, the problem is more complex than just pointing the finger at the “problem”. Even if the customer is the problem, you run the risk of not addressing other equally important dynamics at play.

Problem, Solution, or Both?

Where many top organizational executives would like to point the finger of responsibility at someone else, it begs the question, “Are you as the leader a part of the problem or the solution?” The answer is “Yes!” You are both. But if the question were posed to other members of the management team, the answer would be a resounding “Yes!” So at least you are not alone - you have company! Everyone in the organization bears some responsibility for the problem AND the solution. And therein lies the good news - there’s hope. You’re not stuck on the proverbial hamster wheel of organizational life!

I recently heard of a CEO whose company generates millions of dollars in annual revenue and employs over 400 in multiple locations whose practice is to micromanage the affairs of his business. Virtually no decision can be made without his input and approval, including the specifics of arranging all of the details for a head office staff photo shoot. A mass mailing is going out to thousands of customers and he is committed to sign ever letter (over 5000) to “give it a personal touch”. I was left to wonder if that was the best use of this CEO’s time to provide effective, dynamic leadership to a company that on many fronts is already successful. Is he a part of the problem or the solution? YES!!!!! Imagine what might happen to the growth potential of his company if he could genuinely empower others in the organization to make lower level decisions within a framework of clear accountability! He could then focus his energies on those decisions which would make the most dynamic impact on the ongoing growth and development of the company. Activities like building his management team, refining the vision and direction of the business, reviewing the financial reports, planning for the future, connecting with his largest clients!

Change is possible, but it starts with you! And the first step is to recognize that in some way you are a part of the problem. You may not be aware of how you specifically you contribute to the problem, but you are. And you can be a bigger part of the solution if you have the courage to ask the hard questions and solicit the kind of honest feedback that will move you to greatness as a leader and move your organization to the next level of success and sustainability!

Which choice will you make? Continue to be a part of the problem or begin the process of being a bigger part of the solution? It’s up to you - you decide.


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