Practice of the Month

Beware of Your Leadership Strengths in Our VUCA World. Leading during periods of high anxiety can cause automatic decisions, leading you to be stressed and impeding your team’s effectiveness.

Beware of Your Leadership Strengths in Our VUCA World

It’s obvious to most leaders that we are living in extremely stressful times. As a leader, you may feel overworked or be facing a decision without easy answers. Leading during periods of high anxiety means that your leadership strengths can become a hindrance to your team. Here’s how.

Leading during periods of high anxiety can cause automatic decisions, triggering you to be stressed and impede your team’s effectiveness.

We return to our February story featuring Charles (See the previous post here). Charles felt unsuccessful, “unprepared, overwhelmed and unfocused” without getting any helpful feedback from his boss Pam. Charles’s challenge is co-created, with Pam playing a larger role than she realizes.

Pam has always been a “take charge” kind of person. The oldest of four, she took on much responsibility for her younger siblings during her formative years. With both parents working, much of the after-school care for her younger siblings fell on Pam. Gradually, almost without thinking, Pam made it her goal to keep things orderly and peaceful in the home. Upon reflection with her leadership coach, Pam realized her behavior may have resulted from her parents’ demanding schedule and their intense relationship. This meant two things to Pam; getting the chores done before her parents got home and “redoing” the work of her younger siblings, who were more interested in doing a job halfway than doing it well. Pam was annoyed with her siblings while simultaneously aware of her need for her parent’s approval. Over time, Pam took on more and more responsibility as her younger siblings did even less. Pam showed clear signs of over-functioning.

Over-functioning is “to think, feel or act for another, in a way that erodes their own capacity for ownership or thoughtful action.” Predictably, when one becomes more responsible, another becomes less responsible (known as under-functioning). Whether it was her younger siblings at home or with Charles in the office, Pam took on other’s tasks automatically – without realizing she was contributing to the problem she complained about.

Download this graphic as a reference to help you manage your own capacity.

When leading in a VUCA world, stressful events typically cause you to function automatically, often leading you to be stressed while impeding your team’s effectiveness. During these times, being responsible morphs into being “too responsible.” Consequently, the under-functioners step back with the rationale of why bother “they’ll take charge anyway?”

To manage your own capacity and elevate your team’s capacity, here are three questions to consider, along with some action steps:

  1. “What am I responsible for here, and what belongs to another?” When you notice someone on your team struggling, instead of rushing in with a solution, ask them what’s most challenging for them. Then be willing to offer the support they need in ways they find helpful.
  2. “What tends to make me anxious, and what do I do when stressed?” For many leaders, their automatic response is to jump in and offer answers or fix the problem themselves. This is one of the leading causes of burnout for leaders and the underperformance of teams.
  3. “Do I sense those I lead are gaining confidence, taking the initiative, and offering innovative ideas?” If the answer is no, you may have hired the wrong person. What is more likely, however, is that your over-functioning has been met with under-functioning on the part of your team. On a particular task, pause, then carefully examine what you are responsible for and what belongs to others.
Download this resource to help you with your own capacity

Stay tuned for our April Practice of the Month as we revisit this story of how you can elevate your team.

This article was contributed by Mike Nowland and John Moyer, Resilient Leadership Trainers.

John Moyer

John Moyer has 30+ years of experience training and coaching both student and adult leaders. His focus is primarily on individual coaching along with targeted training engagements as a complement to his teaching career.

Mike Nowland

Mike Nowland is a persuasive and empathetic communicator with over 30 years of senior-level experience in Leadership Development and Human Resources with companies like Marriott International, ResMed, and Kisco Senior Living.

Get 9 Practical Tips to Build Leadership Effectiveness

  • Learn more about your level of self-differentiation
  • Receive a full report that includes an explanation of the three key areas that characterize well-differentiated leaders.
  • Take the FREE RL Self-Assessment