A Steve Post Redux. Transformers VS Ambient Anxiety

No, I’m not blogging about a new Hollywood movie. This post highlights something hinted at in our book that can be further clarified – the leader as a “transformer” of anxiety.

As many of you now know, I resist focusing on techniques. Techniques to motivate people come across as manipulative and only serve to alienate. I believe the only effective way to lead is to take the attention off of behaviors and techniques (content) and place it on the leader’s own presence and functioning (process). One important dimension of functioning is one’s response to systemic and chronic anxiety in a system or group.

Think of any system/family/group/organization as a container or a kind of “bucket” that holds a particular mission. Along with holding the mission, the container also holds the anxiety of it’s members around that mission. Though levels of anxiety can rise and fall in a system, there remains a base level that is very stable. Like an ambient level of sound, this can be called the “ambient anxiety” of that system.

Leaders function in one of two ways in the face of ambient anxiety. They may function as “step up transformers” of anxiety, making the environment more toxic.  Or they may function as “step down transformers,” lowering toxicity and increasing creativity and effectiveness. No area of functioning is more important in determining effective leadership. It determines the entire climate of a system.

Being a “step up transformer” is tempting. It looks good to others. The drama communicates importance, giving the appearance of dedication and intensity. This mode is a perfect place to hide as an ineffective leader. It allows for symptomatic expression everywhere else. The leader can pose as a hero, bravely fighting the fires that surround him/her. This leadership camouflage can keep the focus on symptoms indefinitely while hiding the root cause of the problem in the leader.

Being a “step down transformer” in a family/group/organization/system is less glamourous. It operates less visibly and requires more maturity, courage and self-confidence on the part of the leader. Yet it is powerful in its ability to calm the storms and lower toxicity, setting members free to do their best.

At the risk of bordering on technique, we might ask, “How do I function as a step down transformer in this system?” The short answer is to work the Energy Management Model. Here is what this might look like.

  • Set one’s intent to be a step down transformer (a healing presence)
  • Focus on one’s own functioning rather than on the challenges within the system.
  • Manage personal anxiety effectively.
  • Be clear about one’s own vision and mission.
  • Remain non-reactive and non-anxious in the face of challenges.
  • Offer clear choices and clarify consequences to members while remaining detached from specific outcomes.
  • Refuse to get caught on the inside of emotional triangles.
  • Cultivate humor, playfulness and hold the bigger picture in the face of adversity.
  • Stay connected to one’s Spiritual Source and trust the unfolding of life and situations.

As you evaluate your own functioning, remember that attempts at perfection only increase anxiety and are counterproductive. If you are functioning at a level better than 50/50 you are doing well. I don’t know anyone who succeeds at functioning as a step down transformer more than 70% of the time. That is about as good as it gets. Again, our experience at HealingLeaders tells us that practicing the Energy Management Model is the best way we know to maximize this function and lead effectively. Doing so can minimize the ambient anxiety in any system and increase the maturity and functioning of its members.

Peace and courage,

Steve Geske

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