Fact: Leaders “think systems” by reflecting thoughtfully on the actions, reactions, and interactions they have observed among the people within the system of which they are a part. The anxiety-driven forces that make up the emotional system of families, teams and organizations cannot be directly observed. Reactivity, however, is the “public face” of anxiety and reveals to the thoughtful observer a great deal about the system and what is happening beneath conscious awareness.
Action: Set aside time to focus and reflect on the emotional system you are part of (family and work being the most obvious and important systems for most of us). Be deliberate about trying to understand what is underneath a subtle—and perhaps not so subtle—reactive behavior that you observe in yourself, in others or in the system at large. Focus on a single behavior that is clearly reactive and disruptive, but do not be lured into thinking it is the behavior that is the issue or problem. See it as a symptom, and probe more deeply into the source and intensity of the anxiety that must be driving such a behavior. Reflect on where there may be hidden connections with other parts of the system, and ask yourself how anxiety elsewhere might be spreading like a contagious virus, only to surface in the behavior that has caught your attention.