This week I found myself thinking about my earlier career after participating in a webinar featuring Mora Aarons-Mele. The title of the webinar was “Helping Leaders and Teams Who Are Anxious Achievers.” I identified with both the adjective and the noun in that title.

As a young leader, I often found myself anxious about failing, failing myself or failing my team. This anxiety was based on feelings of inferiority or insecurity. I have often been classified as a “high achiever” on both personality and leadership inventories. So I could easily relate to the subject of this webinar.

Have you ever found yourself falling into what Mora calls “thought traps for anxious achievers?” There are many of them:

-Catastrophizing: Instantly going to the worst-case scenario (This used to be one of my favorites!)

-Bias Repeating: Making the same slanted conclusions over and over

-Scarcity Mindset: Always looking at the glass as half-empty

-Surrendering to Our Inner Critic: We all have one- some of us acknowledge and address it and some of us never see it

-Perfectionism: Not accepting that our best is sufficient

As leaders, we have many choices. One choice is to ignore our anxiety and pretend it does not exist or acknowledge it and strive to reframe it
One important way leaders can manage anxiety for themselves – and role model it for their teams – is to successfully manage their calendar and their time. In this day and age, leaders must acknowledge the power of the internet and social media.

Social media participation is fun. It releases endorphins in our brains. It is addictive in many ways. However for leaders, social media can lead to stress, anxiety and negativity. Leaders must give themselves permission to stay away from the internet and social media for their own mental health and for the sake of their own productivity.

Of course, leaders must pay attention to emails, to texts or even – in rare cases – to old-fashioned phone calls. However, devoting too much attention to the internet and social media can take us away from our primary focus – to lead ourselves and simultaneously lead our teams.

How else can we manage anxiety for ourselves and our teammates?

-We can be vigilant for symptoms of anxiety in the workplace

-We can encourage teammates to speak up, promising confidentiality

-We can maintain a workplace that emphasizes psychological safety

-We can publicize workplace resources, such as employee assistance programs

-We can recommend reading resources, including appropriate books and newsletters

-We can enlist teammates in looking out for signs of anxiety in their colleagues

-We can make it acceptable to talk about anxiety-producing events at team meetings, such as employee layoffs or even war half a world away

-We can help teammates look in the mirror so they can acknowledge anxiety in themselves

-We can show vulnerability to our teammates, teaching them it is acceptable to acknowledge such vulnerability at work

-We can encourage our teammates to take a mental health day when they feel it will benefit them

-We can make sure our teammates use their allotted annual leave so they can refuel, refresh and refocus

-We can emphasize the importance of a healthy work-life balance for all our teammates

-We can address conflicts within our teams rather than try to sweep them under the rug or pretend they do not exist

-We can strive to find a different role for a teammate if a position’s demands are producing significant anxiety for him or her

-We can – if, ultimately, a teammate’s anxiety cannot be successfully addressed – help him or her find a new position at a different organization

Anxiety is inevitable – for us and our teammates – at any organization. The best leaders do not run from it. They acknowledge it and strive to address it as effectively as they can, for the benefit of their own leadership and the well-being of their teammates.

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