The soft and transitional season that Charles Dickens characterised as being both the ‘best of times’ and the ‘worst of times’ is described by Peter Steinke as an age of ‘Uproar’.
Steinke addresses the nature of leadership in a concise book titled Uproar – Calm Leadership In Anxious Times. Just as Douglas Adams’ fictional (to the best of my knowledge) compendium The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy enticed and soothed readers by having the words ‘Don’t Panic’ on its cover, the title of Steinke’s book simply demands it be read.
Part of the issue is that leaders have their own triggers for anxiety, of which we are sometimes ignorant; another aspect of the issue is that as people who are often fixers and told to be problem solvers we can sometimes pour our energies into providing what we believe are the correct answers and finding ourselves bewildered by the fact that individuals and groups continue along unchanged.
Steinke points out that when reacting in anxiety, the situation is being driven by emotional and reactive responses, and dealing with those should be included in our response.
Often in church situations divisions will be characterised in terms of truth and error. But there’s always an emotional response that is part of the division.
When people live through a time of Uproar, the conversation about leadership gains greater importance. Our anxiety plays a role in how we think, feel and act. Knowing that anxiety, like leaking water, flows down, leaders cannot be as anxious as everyone else. Because of the infectious nature of anxiety, the leader’s apprehensiveness contaminates the whole system.
The contamination can take several forms. Normally, we think that contested arguments or disturbing events are primary and the emotional factors secondary. In Bowen theory, though, the emotionality is primary. Differences by themselves do not cause differing. The amount and persistence of the emotional forces create the dissension and division. Unless and until these forces are dealt with, the differing continues. So many leaders will focus attention on how to change or settle the issues instead of working on the emotionality. Anxiety, the source of the reactivity, is the prime mover of the emotional forces.
Peter L. Steinke, Uproar – Calm Leadership In Anxious Times, Rowman and Littlefield, 2019, pg 19.