12: Leading in Anxious Times, Calm Leadership in Crisis

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ENC Leadership Podcast

1:20 – A review of the Leading in Anxious Times Series

Building blocks mentioned:

  1. The Leader’s Emotions
  2. The Leader’s Responsibility
  3. The Leader’s Relationships
  4. Family Systems Theory
  5. Emotional Triangles
  6. Calm Leadership: Part 1 and Part 2

3:10 – An application of calm leadership

  • Calm leadership in crisis: The Leader’s Journey defines a crisis as “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; it is a time when the future for an individual, family, or organization is called into question or threatened.” (Jim Herrington) 
  • We have to have a new way of thinking: We reject simplistic answers. We realize the complexity of the problem and reject quick-fix solutions. We also realize the amazing power we have to influence the entire system, if we will start with the change in ourselves.

5:00 – How calm leadership in crisis looks like

1. Take responsibility for yourself.

a. Manage your anxiety.

  • “During a crisis, leaders need to make an extra effort to calm ourselves so that we can respond rather than react to the crisis.” – Jim Herrington, The Leader’s Journey
  • The anxiety will be so loud. The unbelief will be so prevalent. And because it’s a crisis, you’re just as affected. Will you be pressured into making a decision that God did not call you to make or will you resist? Will you remain self-differentiated?

b. Do your part rather than blame others.

c. Accept that this is not going to be a popular position. 

  • But that’s what leadership is for. Someone has to go first. The leader is the one who goes first.
  • The leader in crisis is the one “with the courage to define self, who is as invested in the welfare of the family as in the self, who is neither angry nor dogmatic, whose energy goes into changing self rather than telling others what they should do, who can know and respect the multiple opinions of others, who can modify self in response to the strengths of the group and who is not influenced by the irresponsible opinions of others.” – Jim Herrington, The Leader’s Journey
  • Defining self takes courage. It doesn’t take more knowledge or expertise, it requires courage and willingness to step out.
  • This kind of leader is neither angry nor dogmatic. Adding anxiety in the equation does not help us respond with compassion and creativity.
  • This kind of leader’s energy goes into changing self rather than telling others what they should do.
  • This kind of leader can know and respect multiple opinions, yet is also not influenced by the irresponsible opinions of others. You know what to listen to and what to discard.
  • Why focus on the self? “As one leader after another finds the courage to respond differently, out of differentiation of self, bit by bit portions of society stand a chance of functioning at a higher level.” – Jim Herrington, The Leader’s Journey
  • Everyone else gets to stand up, because you stood up.
  • In a crisis, take responsibility for yourself.

2. Get clarity immediately.

  1. Get clarity on the facts and your own principles.
  • Calm leaders who will lead their teams safely through crisis know they need to get to the facts beneath the shouting. But the caveat is—we shouldn’t be paralyzed by the desire or overdependence for more data.
  • Edwin Friedman in the book “A Failure of Nerve” describes the need for more data as another manifestation of anxiety. We want to be sure, we delay the decision, and we abdicate responsibility, and when we get it wrong, we blame the data.
  • More than the facts, what you want to get clarity on are your own thoughts, beliefs, and principles about the facts and the reality.
  • Case study: Right now, there is uproar in the Philippines about posting on social media in response to issues plaguing the country. 
  • For me, personally, I had to clarify my own position: What does Joe believe about this? What is my conscience telling me? What do I think God is telling me? 
  • I don’t start by asking first: What is everyone else doing? What does everyone else want me to do? Or even, what is my organization’s stand on this?
  • Those questions are important, but if I go there first without getting clarity for myself, I rob myself of the self-differentiation I have as a leader.
  1. Get clarity on what God’s telling you to do.
  • You don’t need to be stubborn, incorrectible, or arrogant about this. It isn’t a choice between listening to and hearing from God or being arrogant. That’s a false dichotomy.
  • Even as I prayed and heard God for myself, I bounced off these ideas with other people and listened to them. 
  • Bouncing off ideas with other people isn’t a “me versus you” scenario. We process other people’s thoughts as, “Is this God speaking to me through this person? Is this wisdom? Is this the truth? Do I bear witness with this?”
  • “If those beliefs are not truly ours, invoking them is likely to be another emotional reaction to the anxiety of the moment.” –  Jim Herrington, The Leader’s Journey

3. Keep the mission in focus.

  • What are you here for? What is the team that you’re leading here for? 
  • When we remember our mission, we realize that some things are more important to defend than others.
  • “The mission trumps. Always. Every time. In every conflict. Not the pastor. Not the members of the church who pay the bills. Not those who scream the loudest or who are most in pain. No. In a healthy Christian ministry, the mission wins every argument.” – The Leader’s Journey
  • Staying true to mission will not always be popular.               
  • “Often leaders make decisions intended to calm the anxiety rather than to stay true to the mission… clear mission both unites and divides.” – The Leader’s Journey
  • Stay on mission. Stay on God’s call. As Christians, we also have to remember that God’s call isn’t just what we do. But how we live and how we relate with Him. In this case, staying on mission includes nurturing our relationship with God and walking in step with him. That’s just as important, if not more important, than what we’re doing. 
  • When I slowed down, it wasn’t a departure from the mission, because my mission is to be on mission with God.
  • “Anxiety is what unbelief feels like.” – Dr. Greg Mitchell

32:10 – Episode recap

  • We are in crisis now. Globally. I pray that as we apply these lessons, we’ll start leading wherever we are.
  • “As one leader after another finds the courage to respond differently, out of differentiation of self, bit by bit portions of society stand a chance of functioning at a higher level.” – Jim Herrington, The Leader’s Journey

Other resources mentioned in this podcast episode:

1. The Leader’s Journey by Jim Herrington
2. The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg

The ENC Leadership Podcast is hosted by Joseph Bonifacio.

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