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In my work with executives, I am continually impressed with their results orientation. Generally speaking most CEOs or C-suite executives value results over anything else.  It is after all, one of the greatest predictors of success for an Executive Leader.  For every strength there is an equal limitation to that strength.  No investor in their right mind would ever tolerate a lack of company results.  When it comes to emotional leadership and centeredness orientation, this emphasis only on outcomes has risks.

When it comes to leadership development, engagement, motivation and teams, this emphasis only on results can become a hindrance to progress.   Americans are by nature addicted to the ‘quick fix’ or ‘immediate results’ – we often refuse to take a long-term view.  An even greater emphasis has become our need for data to create a sense of certainty in the midst of times of change and chaos.

William Friedman in his book titled, “A Failure of Nerve” outlines the challenges leaders face in businesses riddled with anxiety, stress, lack of engagement and motivation.  He begins his work with an overview of well-differentiated leadership.  A well differentiated leader does not own the stress, anxiety or outcomes of others.  The leader stays independent of the opinions of others and demonstrates a non-anxious presence.

I have two daughters and it is a daily challenge for me to stay well-differentiated in the midst of an anxious system promoted in my daughter’s social reality.  The environment is incredibly competitive, anxiety producing and stressful.  It is important for me to stay calm in the midst of their stress or anxious responses to not take on the anxiety and stress of their day. Instead it is more productive to empathize, help them learn and partner with them to navigate a path forward.

Furthermore, in coaching the same challenge exists.  As individuals bring their anxiety and stress to the table it is important that I remain well-differentiated.  Said another way, these challenges brought to me by my clients are theirs to resolve and navigate.  My job is to provide space, accountability and challenge.

Friedman offers leaders in any phase of their development several suggestions to remain well-differentiated:

  • Focus on your presence vs. your technique – The research around communication being focused primarily on how we say something vs. what we say is supportive of Friedman’s concept. A well-differentiated leader maintains a non-anxious presence in the midst of anxious contagion.
  • Focus on your integrity vs. your skills at motivation and manipulating others – Integrity is about inside / outside match. If on the outside you say something that does not match the truth of the inside your integrity is compromised.
  • Focus on your cause vs. their anxiety reduction – It starts with identifying what your cause is and then leading with that vision. A leader’s job is to ‘Not’ be the messiah of anxiety. Stay connected to yourself and to the person by not owning their anxiety.
  • Focus on presence vs. reactivity – Your presence has the ability to keep others calm without uttering a word. Reactivity helps develop stress contagion.

As you review these four focal points, consider the following for reflection:

In the last 90 days, how often would you say you leveraged technique or skill to lead others?

Evaluate your integrity – in the last 90 days, have there been any instances where you had an inside outside mismatch?