It’s too simplistic to say that my blog posts are about learning how to engage thinking and reduce automatic reactivity. But that’s one reason I write a weekly blog. So, here are five ways of thinking about being a better leader by engaging thinking and reducing reactivity. Feel free to leave your ideas about good leadership in the comment section below.
1. Focus on what is important
A good leader is clear about what’s important like life goals, core beliefs, and core principles. While other people, or the organizations we work for may share some of these, what matters is that they are important to you. The challenge is to stay focused on what is important to you while staying connected to important others.
It's not uncommon to experience pressure from others to give up something important for the sake of the relationship. In order to stay focused, it requires an intentional effort to stay calm as you manager your reactivity. Through a process of trial and error you learn how to stay focused on what is important while relating to important others.
Focusing on a project that is important to you (that does not require the input or cooperation of others) can have tremendous benefits to your level of functioning. Staying focused on what’s important to you helps develop motivation, skills in organization and focus, and the opportunity to work on defining yourself in relation to others (without reacting back) as others react to your effort. How can you stay connected to others without letting others impede your progress in accomplishing what’s important to you?
2. Be a good thinker in meetings
Ask good questions by separating out feelings from thinking. We do this both internally and externally and we separate out our thinking from feelings and as we separate out our thinking and feelings for the thinking and feelings of others. Good questions lead to this awareness, and this awareness leads to good questions.
Without blaming others or self, be prepared to present your observations about how the meetings are progressing. What is working and what needs improvement? The nuts and bolts of meetings are important, but where in the agenda is their time for thinking, reflection, observation, goal setting, and coming up with ways to do better?
Leaders who ask good questions challenge those in a meeting to function at higher levels. They move from avoiding challenges to engaging them directly. Some people will drop out of the committee. Others will join the effort.
3. Disrupt emotional intensity
The research is clear: When anxiety goes up, thinking goes down, and behavior becomes more automatic. Anxiety is contagious as it makes its way around a relationship system via speech, body language, eye contact, etc. Some people pick up the anxiety and do something with it. They may try to calm others down, walk away, or freeze up.
A common reaction to anxiety is herding. As anxiety goes up, people take sides and form groups. Conflict in congregations, polarization in politics, and rival fans at a sporting event resemble characteristics of this phenomena. A good leader works on emotional neutrality: not allowing the increase in anxiety to disrupt their ability to think and relate to others. This is not to say that the leader doesn’t have an opinion. But they base their opinion on facts, not feelings. Effective leaders are able to articulate a position without participating in or perpetuating herding, conflict, or polarization.
4. Engage other leaders
Who are the good thinkers in the congregation? Leaders encourage and engage individuals who have some capacity to distinguish thinking from feelings. When a congregation is anxious, and the anxiety is spreading through interlocking triangles leaders, who articulate a thoughtful position and who are less reactive, can contribute to a congregation's ability to engage a difficult challenge.
Leadership Develop programs should:
- Promote an individual's effort to develop life goals.
- Encourage leaders to articulate their best thinking.
- Model and promote characteristics of leadership: courage, curiosity, exploration, engagement, process thinking, respect, awareness, resiliency, and motivation.
5. Work at managing your reactivity to others through your family of origin
The success and failure of any congregation correlate directly with the functional level of the relationship system. Variables like the size of the challenge and the level of anxiety in the system are contributing factors. Efforts to change the behavior of others or hoping certain people will leave the congregation are indicators of reactivity. Leaders focus on managing their reactivity to others. While it is possible to learn this in the context of a congregation, best results come from working the multigenerational transmission process in one's family.
If I’ve been your coach before, you’ve probably heard me say, “Where does this light up in your family of origin?” Let's say you identify someone in the congregation who drives you crazy. You struggle to be in the same room with them. Every conversation with them raises your anxiety. You then ask yourself, “what is it about this person that drives me crazy?” Once you arrive at an answer, you ask yourself another question, “Where in my family do I see this same behavior that drives me crazy?” It doesn’t take long to see the answer.
Being an effective leader in a congregation is about being an effective leader of the family. If you’d like to learn more about this, go to the contact page and send me a note. I can talk to you about options for coaching. Click here to go to the contact page.