The Thoughtful Leader

Tag Archives: Reactivity

Achieving Balance through Leadership in a World Increasingly Out of Balance

I awoke yesterday morning to a news report on my local television station in which a TV host and comedian had suggested to viewers that they hide their children’s Halloween candy and tell them they had eaten it; then viewers were asked to make a video of the children’s reactions and post it on The report went on to show several of the posted videos of the children bursting into tears. It was cruel and totally unfunny.

I wondered how parents could be so easily persuaded to commit such an unloving act toward their child. Did it rise to the level of child abuse? Child abuse is behavior that is counter to the natural instincts of parents to protect their offspring. Parents who took those videos of their children’s reactions to a mean trick probably don’t see themselves as child abusers, but at the very least theirs was behavior that was immature and showed poor judgment.

From an emotional systems perspective, it is reactive behavior, and not thoughtful. It is a symptom of an increasingly anxious society in which television, radio and the internet can spread anxiety around the globe in an instant. More than ever, we need mature leaders at all levels of our society—at home and in our businesses, schools, local communities, nationally and internationally. We need adults to behave like adults, and not to be unnecessarily cruel to their children, employees, colleagues, friends or relatives.

I don’t need to enumerate all of the stresses on adults in our society; neither do I claim to be immune from the anxiety that is all around me. I lead a company that provides data quality management services in the U.S. healthcare industry, and like other sectors in our society, its leaders must cope with a difficult economy, a shortage of resources, the increasing needs of an aging population, the challenges of new technology and changing regulatory requirements. I am vulnerable to absorbing the anxiety around me and spreading it to others, but as a leader I must try to resist doing that.

I seek the balance in my life necessary to manage my own anxiety, so that I can be a responsible leader. As a business owner I have a responsibility to lead my clients and my colleagues; and, as spouse, step parent and grandparent, I have a responsibility to be a leader in my family. That means my first priority is to manage my anxiety—to listen, observe, think, and act on facts—not just react to the anxious behavior around me, such as an irresponsible suggestion from a TV host. For me that means getting off auto-pilot and taking time for fun, for socializing with friends and family, or taking long walks without my iPod or cell phone. I must take time to recharge my own internal batteries. When I do that, I am in better balance, and I can hear the emotional meanings behind what is being said at work or at home. I can see more broadly, explore more options, and make more thoughtful choices. It’s not easy, but it’s important, because being calm is contagious too. If I can be present with others in a way that enables them to stop reacting and start thinking, then I am leading, both at home and in the workplace.

Leslie Ann Fox


Blog on Blago

Is Lone Holdout on the Blagojevich Jury an Example of a Leader or a Dupe?

The recent corruption trial of Illinois’s ex-governor Rod Blagojevich was watched with great interest by residents of our state, as well as by people around the country. In our politically polarized country, politics is more blood sport than simply the process by which we govern in our democracy. The lack of calm, thoughtful political leadership leads to herd behavior in the wider society under stress, with people automatically agreeing or going along with popular sentiment because it is easier than carefully weighing hard evidence. Given the reciprocal nature of all relationship systems, the beliefs of a citizenry are easily hijacked by the automatic emotional process in our anxious society.

According to fellow jurors quoted in the Chicago Tribune on August 18th, 2010, the lone holdout on the jury appeared to look quietly and thoughtfully at the facts presented and to take a clear and consistent position based on those facts throughout the deliberations. She was truly the odd person out, on the outside of the “in group,” yet she seemed comfortable with that position. I am wondering if that juror was not swayed by others because she is an individual with the rare capacity to remain emotionally neutral and keep thinking in the midst of intense emotions. In my view, that would make her an extraordinary leader. However, no else was swayed by her calm, thoughtful demeanor or her position that the prosecution did not have hard evidence of wrongdoing beyond the one count of lying. My belief is that a leader functions in a way that inspires and energizes colleagues or team mates. That didn’t happen in this case. Unlike in the movie 12 Angry Men, the others did not come around to her way of thinking. So the jury was hung on 23 of 24 counts. Is that symptomatic of the dysfunction in the wider society—that an individual, a retired public health counselor, couldn’t provide leadership, but could only protect her own integrity or was she simply deceived by a clever defense? Was hers a clear “I” position or a reaction to the togetherness of the other jurors? What would you do in a similar position?

Leslie Ann Fox