All of us have some very difficult and painful situations ahead of us, and those of us who have been around for a while have some scar tissue that came at heavy emotional prices. Worry and anxiety are inescapable realities, not only of our professional environments, but of our personal lives as well. In the vast majority of difficult times, the two typically become related. It is good to learn from our experiences, but it is even greater if you can learn from the experiences of others. It is my hope that my candor about the issues of worry and anxiety that I have experienced, and the lessons and conclusions that I have arrived at, will be of value to others who follow me in the leadership trenches.
Whoever coined the term “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” had clearly been in the worry and anxiety trenches! In this vein, it is important to recognize that there is typically a correlation between command seniority and the ability to function during difficult times. As with other challenges, our ability to navigate and function during troubled times increases with age and scar tissue. Personally, in my decades of law enforcement and the military, I have on several occasions been in the absolute depths of despair, but in all the instances I have emerged stronger and wiser (notwithstanding anyone who might disagree!).
It is easy to say that we are not going to worry about things, and even easier to tell others not to worry, but the reality is that it is much easier said than done. Described below are some absolute realities that I wish I had collectively recognized at various points in my career. I believe there is a chance that in some instances my blood pressure may have gone down and my anxiety lessened. If you are “leaning forward” and taking your job seriously, you will have plenty of things to fret over in the future. When those times occur, I recommend that you recognize the reality of the following factors, and hope that your blood pressure will go down and your anxieties will decrease.
The human mind will typically default to the worst potential scenario. Generally speaking, things are usually not quite as bad as we initially believe them to be.
There is absolutely a correlation between worry and anxiety, and age and experience. As you mature in age and experience and start developing scar tissue, the realities of the other factors in this article will have increased meaning and value.
The challenge presented by worry and anxiety is a family affair, and you owe it to your loved ones to compartmentalize your concerns and not cause them to suffer with you. A person who is constantly worrying contributes to a dampened family environment. Don’t drag your family into an emotional hole.
Deciding that you are not going to worry is typically not effective. Try as we may, it can be very difficult to push worry and anxiety out of our brain housing group. The cumulative absorption of the realities in this article are intended to be helpful.
We all have personal and professional crises in our future. Recognize that you will have painful crises in your future. When they arise, fasten your emotional seat belt, accept the inevitable, do the best you can and ride out the storm. When all is well, enjoy it while you can!
Save your worry and deal with the crisis when and if it occurs. Anything else is wasted energy! When and if the time comes, apply your knowledge, wisdom, professional demeanor and verbal skill, and hope for the best. Worry has never solved a problem that I am aware of.
Everyone has an opinion about everyone else, and those opinions are always changing. Worry and anxiety are often centered on a person or a group; things will ultimately change. Reflect on the shifting nature of various past relationships. Never forget that the only type of workplace relationship that truly counts is that which is a derivative of professionalism and respect. If you screw up, accept responsibility. Learn from your mistakes, dust yourself off and move on. Among your courses of action, jumping into a toxic environment and endeavoring to ingratiate yourself with sycophants may be today’s solution and tomorrow’s nightmare. Stand aside and shine on your own.
Haste and impatience are your enemies; patience and self-discipline are your friends. We all want to resolve painful situations as soon as possible, but pushing the issue for a premature resolution may not be the right thing to do. You may reignite a fire that was starting to diminish or negatively re-energize someone who was starting to settle down. Be silent and observant until the right time to seek resolution (or forgiveness). Time is often a great salve.
Sometimes an unanticipated bigger issue arises that will cause your current issue to diminish or even disappear. While it might not be an earthquake or tidal wave, there may be other significant issues involving other people or situations that knock your sins off the radar screen, or just push them aside. Most tenured leaders (me included!) can tell of situations that caused us to lose a lot of sleep but virtually evaporated in light of subsequent situations. Whew!
The object of your worry may well be influenced by issues that you are unaware of, or that may not yet have arisen. Just as a physician needs to understand what is happening throughout the body before prescribing medication, you need to identify and understand the other factors that may be influencing your situation before you embark on a course of action.
Some issues die a natural death. It happens. Sometimes the best course of action is to keep your mouth shut and your fingers crossed!
Don’t hesitate to seek outside help if necessary. There are times (fortunately few) when our mind spins out of control and magnifies everything bad, sometimes resulting in self-destruction. If you are drifting in this direction, seek professional assistance. Always remember, and don’t let anyone else forget, that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem!
Are you on a healthy career path? Not every job is for every person, and if you are someone who is constantly in a “high-speed emotional wobble,” you might be going down a career path that is not good for you, the organization or your associates. As an example, there are a bunch of great lawyers who are lousy managers, great technicians who are weak supervisors and super assistant CEOs who fail miserably when placed in the top job. Something potentially worthy of consideration!
Things always seem worse at night. Now go back, review the above information and get a good night’s sleep!
Pain will also make you stronger! Not only do pain and anxiety not kill us, but they truly do toughen, tenderize and add wisdom to our leadership persona. In my decades of leadership experiences in a wide variety of settings, I have never met an accomplished person who does not have some really painful and foolish things in his or her background. Making mistakes and failing occasionally goes with the territory of leadership development and accomplishment. Just as you hope your bosses will not forget this reality, don’t you dare forget to acknowledge it in your future dealings with subordinates who screw up!
In closing, always be mindful of another absolute reality: The manner in which you deal with adversity will be remembered long after the topic of that adversity has been forgotten. Were you able to stand tall and weather the storm, or did you shrink like the proverbial cheap suit?
We all make mistakes and have a few foolish situations in our past. You want to be legitimately perceived as someone who has a well-deserved reputation for being able to stand tall, accept responsibility for your sins, accept the consequences of your actions, learn from your mistakes, and help your future subordinates and associates learn from your mistakes as well!