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Why Anxiety-Driven Leadership Doesn't Work

Why Anxiety-Driven Leadership Doesn't Work
Leading from anxiety is not the best way to be a good boss. / Credit: Business man in pieces via Shutterstock

The challenges facing today's leaders have changed — but the model of leadership in the United States has not kept pace. The result: anxiety-ridden bosses who fail their organizations.

Bob Rosen, a clinical psychologist and leadership consultant, says the current leadership paradigm neglects a fundamental value: a leader's health. That neglect not only damages the individual in charge, it also hurts the well-being of employees and hamstrings the organization's shot at success.

In "Grounded: How Leaders Stay Focused in an Uncertain World" (Wiley, 2013), Rosen draws on 20 years' experience advising leaders at Toyota, Johnson & Johnson, the New York Fire Department and other business, nonprofit and government organizations. The founder of consulting firm Healthy Companies International, Rosen has interviewed CEOs from more than 350 companies, distilling their lessons into a set of healthy principles for leaders, along with methods to achieve healthy organizations.

In a telephone interview, Rosen told BusinessNewsDaily why leaders need to cultivate more positive emotions:

BusinessNewsDaily: Why do you focus on health in business, as opposed to any other goal?

Bob Rosen: I think that health is the state of being that people and companies naturally aspire to. It's the state where we fire on all cylinders. Health is most directly related to our desire to grow and adapt. A critical aspect of a company's CEO is that striving to have a healthy company. Health leads to better revenue and employee satisfaction. There's a great relationship between health and success.

BND: How does the prevailing leadership model fail leaders?

B.R.: I think that every leader is experiencing anxiety — over uncertainty, personal burnout and cynical employees. The economy has been flat. The unaware, self-interested politicians of today make things more difficult. The world is changing faster than leaders can reinvent themselves.

There are two reasons why today's leadership model is broken: First, leaders are being confronted by unyielding winds of change. They need to be more transparent about decisions. Some leaders put their heads in the sand.

The second reason is that the model for leadership has been outgrown. It obsessively focuses on what leaders do in the short-term and makes them sabotage themselves in the long-term. Leaders focus on winning at all costs, and not nearly enough on themselves, their own well-being. But good health starts at the top of the company.

BND: What are leaders missing out on due to the current leadership model?

B.R.: Organizations in the last 20 years have made major advances in leadership models. The challenge is, we find that leaders are not able to deal with the changes going on in front of them. They feel lost — leadership is very difficult and very personal.

This is our sixth book and the culmination of all of them, 20 years of study. We noticed that the best leaders were healthy, grounded in a set of healthy roots. The book gives the six dimensions of good health [physical, emotional, intellectual, social, vocational and spiritual]. We found that those leaders who had met these dimensions of health were better equipped to grow their organizations.

The book lays out the science behind these dimensions: the biology, psychology, neuroscience and social science. We've learned in the last 20 years what motivates people, what keeps them happy. We've learned that the best leaders are grounded.

BND: Beyond describing these six dimensions, what practical advice does the book give for achieving them?

B.R.: There is the concept itself, the science itself. But there's also a very practical part of the book, about what leaders need to do to model and show these healthy behaviors. It's very easy to read and accessible. It's for leaders in all sectors of life. It's a very personal leadership book. It relates to everyone from the leader of a three-person team to the CEO of Procter & Gamble.

BND: What are some of the methods or examples it shows?

B.R.: There is a story of Tim Ryan, CEO of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, a great example of how he manages his energy. Every six weeks, he takes a chunk of time off, because he needs to recharge. He knows that his life is a stool with three legs: personal, family and business. He's into mindfulness and meditation — he's a pretty self-aware guy. He understands that emotional health is important. He stays grounded in positive emotions. A lot of leaders get sidetracked by anger and anxiety. But we're also hard-wired for positive emotions.

David Rubenstein, CEO of the Carlyle Group, is great on the spiritual health of an organization. The company needs to have a higher purpose, a global connection. This generates a sense of gratitude.

These examples describe who the leaders are and what they do — and what the outcomes were. There are practical steps to put in place. From a business point of view, this is not a feel-good book, though you may feel good reading it. These six categories enable people to enact effective actions.

The first step is offering a bigger purpose: People are much more engaged in their work if they see a higher purpose. The second action is forging a shared direction. At Ford, for example, the CEO [Alan Mulally] came into a bleeding organization and created a new Ford, with its own set of values, connecting people working together from around the world.

The third action is building great relationships, because companies are essentially a set of relationships. At Ford, they're also really good at unleashing human energy, the fourth action. Fifth, you've got to seize new opportunities. You either adapt, or become irrelevant. Lastly, is to drive performance.

Those leaders who adopt the six dimensions of health can better drive the six actions. The result is that you perform better in the market, and also benefit society.

BND: How did you come to study health and leadership in business?

B.R.: I trained as a Ph.D. in psychology. During my 20s, I was treating executives and their families. A lot of times, I noticed, the father was not really showing up. I got very interested in why these families were unhealthy. I started working with 240 companies. Then, I got a call from the MacArthur Foundation, and got funding to study leadership. I sat with CEOs of Toyota, PepsiCo and others. I've gotten to really know these leaders inside and out. It's been a 20-year journey.

Today, Healthy Companies is a leadership consultant. Our mission is to change the world one leader at a time. We work with individual leaders, some for 10 years.

A number of leaders say, "I've been doing this for years." And they're right — they're really good leaders. But it's not the mainstream.

If there's one quality involved in leadership that's most important, it's self-awareness. We're so action-oriented, we forget that actions are driven by perception. We can have an open mindset or a closed mindset. We can be driven by negative or positive emotions. If we could increase the amount of awareness in our leaders by 1 percent, the return on investment would be astronomical

Follow Michael Dhar @michaeldhar. Follow BusinessNewsDaily @BNDarticles. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.