Leadership, Anxiety, and Feeling Effective

Some are born to greatness, but often greatness results from relationships.


This point was brought home when exploring relationships of first line managers (FLMs) with their staff members. At issue was attachment anxiety: the extent to which people approach their working relationships with an edge of anxiety. High anxiety means that relationships with others always have an edge to them. The risks seem more evident than the potential rewards when encountering people at work.

When considering a relationship of two people, there are two possibilities for consistency: they could both be high on anxiety or both low on anxiety. There are also two possibilities for inconsistency: the FLM could be highly anxious while the staff members have low anxiety or the other way around.

So, for staff members to feel effective at their work, is it necessary for:

    1. both staff members and their FLM to have low anxiety, or

    2. as long as either the staff members or their FLM are low anxiety, the staff members can feel effective, or

    3. it just has to do with the staff members: as long as they have low anxiety, they will feel effective?

The results, in the graph, is Option 1.

The only relationships in which staff members reported high levels of efficacy were those in which both the staff members and their FLMs scored low on anxiety.

It looks like anxiety anywhere in the supervisory relationship gets in the way of feeling effective.

What’s your experience?


This entry was posted in Areas of Worklife, Attachment Styles, Burnout, Leadership, Work Engagement and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Leadership, Anxiety, and Feeling Effective

  1. Heriberto says:

    Dear Dr. Leiter:

    I totally agree with this statement.

    In recent days, my supervisor order to my team to make a report, while I was attending to a meeting in another place. I know that she develops anxiety when this kind of reports is required, but my team didn’t knew that. The result was a S.O.S. telephone call telling me that they didn’t find how to make it and pressure was increasing as the deadline was approaching.

    Once I’ve returned to my office and the report was made, they find it was very simple to make, but the supervisor’s anxiety made it look as a very complex and delicate task which no one of my collaborators could perform.

    So, anxiety can really change effectiveness perception.

    • Michael says:

      So good to hear from you.

      Thank you for this fine example. It is such a clear demonstration that anxiety is not simply a personal experience, but a social experience as well. Other people become drawn into the situation. Even if they do not experience anxiety themselves, they experience uncertainty. It is difficult to know how to react.

      The situation is especially intense when it is a supervisor who is anxious. It is difficult for employees to ignore the situation and move on.

      I like your approach of reassuring people and taking steps to keep the focus on the work that must be done.


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Dr. Michael Leiter, co-author of Banishing Burnout and The Truth about Burnout, is set to release his newest book on Work Engagement. Dr. Leiter founded the Canadian Centre for Organizational Research & Development and has researched organizational behaviour for more than two decades. He knows how to improve an organization’s bottom line (productivity and profitability by improving its top line - people. In fact, he and his co-author coined the term "work engagement" as the antithesis to burnout!

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