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Stay above the fray

This blog is an extension of me being trained in social work, working in an administrative leadership role, and wanting to share some wisdom with you. Social workers are change agents, fighters of social injustices, and are advocates. I’m my biggest advocate.

So as is true in life, it’s not all fun and games. This post isn’t about food or a recent adventure. I want to share some points that came up for me regarding leadership. I hope you pick up some light lessons as you read.

I’ve been told (and have heard) I’m viewed as calm, sharp, a person who can have hard conversations, I have good ideas, I’m a person of few words, and I’m the voice of reason. In one instance, the “calm” characteristic came up because I’ve had poignant discussions with some team members recently. My mentee asked me, “how can you be so calm?”

I’ve learned to harness my anxiety over the years. When I tell people, I struggle with anxiety, they don’t believe me. The first thing they point to is my calm demeanor. Yes, I’m an anxious person, and as I get older and learn more through working in public health, about trauma and its impacts on people, I can appreciate how my early life circumstances contributed to my anxiety.

I’ve been working on self-compassion and I think it’s lifelong process. You can’t always foresee triggers that spark the anxiety, or may not even be aware of specific triggers. Yet, these triggers can set the stage for some much needed work to get through issues that seemingly pop up randomly.

I’ve been reading the book Rewire Your Anxious Brain and have been learning about two parts of the brain, the amygdala and the cortex, and how they can trigger anxiety. I’ve learned that anxiety stemming from the amygdala can have triggers you have no control over. Anxiety stemming from the cortex are the result of faulty thinking patterns. There are various approaches to managing anxiety for each. When I complete the book, I may blog about what resonated with me. So far, it’s a very informative read.

One major way I’ve harnessed anxiety over the years is exercising 6 days a week. I exercise mostly for the brain boost of endorphins. I absolutely love my cardio, dancing, and free weights but core exercises…not so much. My blood pressure is a “dream” for many as I’ve been told by my doctors for years. In addition to calmness, the other fruits of my exercise are peace, contentment, confidence, happiness, and ARM MUSCLES.

In terms of calmness as it relates to my leadership style, one particular class in graduate school made a significant impression on me. In this class, our professor invited a different leader from a different agency to speak to the students on a regular schedule. One particular leader was the head of a major federal department. During his leadership term, a catastrophe occurred that resulted in the loss of life….many lives. It was mind blowing. It was an unrelenting mess for years. What he said got him through was an expression I had not heard or used before. He said the biggest lesson in that circumstance was to “stay above the fray”. It was a phrase he’d learned while being a pilot in the military.

“Staying above the fray” in my opinion means to stay above the chaos. Don’t let the chaos seep inside of you. Don’t contribute to the chaos. Otherwise, you may lose your objectivity and problem solving sensibilities. The leader should have the level head. The leader should have the calm demeanor. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel emotion or empathy, but you’re not taking it in. There is strength in being calm, especially for people you are leading. Calmness means not overeacting, which may contribute to someone else’s anxiety. Calmness allows for quick and nimble thinking.

My calmness doesn’t mean I’m going to blow up once I get through whatever it is either. You may have heard the expression “calm before the storm”…? That’s not me. My calmness doesn’t mean I’m not anxious on the inside. Again, I intentionally harness my anxiety, so I can operate in calmness.

The light lesson here is to protect yourself from taking on other people’s anxieties, problems, etc. You have your own stuff. For whatever situation is going on…”stay above the fray”. And invest (time, money, effort) in doing the mental, spiritual, emotional, and/or physical work needed that will allow you to function at optimal levels.

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