In this chapter, Van Gelder and Rouse use one of my favorite descriptions of significant leadership - "Convey a non-anxious presence." This is also a theme in "The Starfish and the Spider". The authors comment that this kind of leadership is more reflective and thoughtful in nature. "They are able to stand back from a situation and observe with some objectivity what is really going on." They quote from Peter Steinke's work, "Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times" - "The leader's 'presence' can have a calming influence on reactive behavior. Rather than reacting to the reactivity of others, leaders with self-composure and self-awareness both exhibit and elicit a more thoughtful response." - P.76 in Field Guide.
The words worth paying attention to are: non-anxious, observe, reflective, thoughtful, non-reactive, self-composure, self-awareness. Where are these abilities developed? For me they are learned behavior. My growing up years and subsequent survival years as an adult were managed by being "in-charge" and assertive. I was a reactive (and often still am) leader. I could go along with the group until I felt it turning away from where I wanted things to go, or thought they should go. Then I would assert my leadership role. This was born out of anxiety. The anxiety was that, like my growing up years, I was moving into an area where I was out-of-control. This was an invitation to chaos and that was unacceptable.
How then does that change? It doesn't happen in the crucible of leadership crisis. I believe it happens when that crucible casts us out into the desert and we are faced with ourselves. There we need to take time to listen, and observe, and reflect, and learn how to be non-anxious with our desert circumstances. By desert I mean those dry places of our lives, those places where our supports have been taken away. The places where we are exposed for our frailty and we are vulnerable. It may the desert of our hearts and minds that no one but God can see, but it is still a wilderness.
My anxious self would want to fix the circumstance and run forward into some other place where I could control my environment. But that only serves to hide my anxiety. No, the key is to learn to remain with my anxious self until the anxiety is attended to and made peace with. It's ok to be anxious. But my anxiety must not rule my actions. So I make peace with it when I can. Acknowledge it. Understand it. Offer it up. Hand it over. Live in it. Until it's affect is diminished.
This is the critical step to being able to handle other people's anxiety. It keeps my anxious self from getting mixed up in the anxieties of others. Then I am not reactive in leadership. I am able to allow for other's anxiety to be expressed. It's ok to be anxious. But let us not allow our anxiety to rule the day.
Jesus comments on this in the Sermon on the Mount. Something about birds and God's love for human beings and tomorrow. It is truly an act of faith to be non-anxious. The road there is through the desert wilderness of our own souls.
Just a note: The expert, the CEO, the driven leader....they will only add to the organization's anxiety not diminish it. At some point it all falls down.