This morning I saw a disturbing tweet; namely, [email protected]: Heart disease costs to triple in US by 2030 http://reut.rs/hZMHbW. No doubt, increased anxiety is one of the key drivers. Anxiety is a destroyer of productivity, innovation, and lives. It’s known to narrow arteries, restricting blood flow to your brain. It causes strokes/heart disease. My father who was a demolition expert and combat engineer during WWII always said, “Anxiety clouds your thinking; it makes you stupid.” It also can make you dead!
My “first” bout with anxiety was 2001. Off I went to the hospital, thinking it was a heart attack. “Same symptoms,” they said. “But how do you know,” I replied. They said, “It’s simple, run to the end of the hall, if you come back it’s an anxiety attack, if you don’t it’s a heart attack! Not much help here!
Frederick C. Militello/Senior Thought Leader
I thought, “Hey if this stuff was happening to me, it must be happening to others? Saw a psychologist…gave me some cognitive tips…and off we went writing a book together. More anxiety! But it was a good idea. After all, who could benefit more from sharing such experiences than those financial types I learned to love over the years? But will they be open to such personal discussions? To our surprise, they “jumped on their couches,” so to speak, and spilled the beans; namely, anxiety was slowly killing them, their finance people and their financial organizations. They wanted to talk about this a lot.
Our book came out in 2002…two printings, one by Financial Times/Prentice Hall. It was called, Leverage Competencies, What Financial Executives Need to Lead. These “tough” financial types took us deep into their lives and into the world of emotional intelligence. We later landed up doing workshops…and had these guys hugging each other. It was a breakthrough…a departure from command control thinking. It was about recognizing feelings, openness, being empowered, sharing information, trusting…becoming partners. Bravo!
This was the good news. But bad news seems to be on the offing. My anxiety is building.
Today, I see an environment of regulation, cost cutting, over-worked and underemployed people. I see growing obsession with results; little caring about process of reaching results. I see product targets but not relationship objectives. I see leaders transforming themselves—turning back to command and control—not toward influence and inspiration. Yes, heart disease is rising; yes, anxiety is rising; yes, in my opinion, leaders (and leadership behavior) may be part of the cause! As leaders we have a responsibility to do something about this. Don’t you agree?
Do you remember the phrase, “Our people are our most important resource?” Have you heard it lately? We need leadership. Cognitive leadership and beyond (emotional intelligence) is about how people process information; it’s about how they think, ultimately it’s about how they behave. And, they can’t process, think or behave in imaginative and value-adding ways if their minds (and arteries) are restricted by growing anxieties.
Let me offer a few tips; tips that hopefully, will take us more to leadership that is driven by emotional intelligence rather than fear and command control response mechanisms. So, for whatever they are worth, here they are:
- Encourage people to talk openly about their anxiety—Anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not a weakness of one’s character.
- Provide open and safe venues for them to do so—Sharing of experiences about anxiety is one of the best ways I know to bring people to a true joining…a true comradeship of community that seems to be lacking in many organizations.
- Have people read about anxiety—Do a Google search and you will be amazed at the relevant topics that have a direct impact on business performance.
- Practice some open leadership—Focus a social media campaign on sharing thoughts, experiences and new discoveries about emotions and feelings.
- Give people time off during the day to relieve their anxiety—smoking-free walks, meditation, a quick twenty-minutes on the tread mill.
- Encourage people to literally reach out to each other—Shake hands/place a confident hand on the shoulder/give each other a hug, when appropriate. Wow, my anxiety is leaving!
- Encourage people to be empathetic toward each other—A New motto…”Saying you are sorry won’t do it.” Have people learn what real empathy is and practice it. It’s a fantastic anxiety reducer.
- Don’t leave people in the dark—Leaders need to make their expectations clear especially about work/life balance issues.
- Consider providing coaching and workshops focused on emotional intelligences—including managing/facing anxiety. Make these as experiential as possible. Story-telling is a biggie here.
- Recognize you can do a great deal to reduce anxiety in the workplace—but not everything. A good deal of anxiety is driven by personality and life history and some say even genetics. The key is to recognize anxiety as a potential source of organizational disruption; however, leaders can also do much to channel the negative energies of anxiety into a common good and healthier organization. Let’s keep those costs down. More importantly, let us increase lives.