The Thoughtful Leader

Tag Archives: Systems-based Leadership

An Inspiring Community Leader

I first met Philip Korman in November 2008 when we were both standing outside a polling place waving signs on Election Day. It was cold that morning, but we stayed warm waving signs for the same candidate, and soon fell into conversation. I learned that Phil was the new executive director of a small community non-profit called CISA — an acronym for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture ( – and as we talked, I learned much more about CISA than I had ever known, sensing Phil’s enthusiasm for this project whose mission is to “strengthen local agriculture by building connections between farmers and the community.”

After the election, I read frequently about Phil and CISA in our local newspaper, and I could see how CISA was growing and thriving under his leadership. There was clearly a synergy between our community’s “locavore” culture and CISA’s mission, but Phil was pulling it together in a way that got farmers, markets, consumers, teachers, community leaders, families, and philanthropists connected to each other and working together to turn their shared values and beliefs around healthy food into a reality.

How did Phil do this? What could others learn from his leadership skills that could be relevant in their own communities? I decided to talk with Phil about how he had become such an effective leader. Those of you who have read “Leading a Business in Anxious Times” will know that I believe natural leadership starts at home, so the first question I asked Phil was what leadership was like in his family when he was growing up. He told me that the whole family had a strong commitment to helping people, to family, and to being a responsible member of the community. Phil was the youngest of four siblings (with two much older sibs and a brother very close to his age). Frank Sulloway’s book, “Born to Rebel” (1997), teaches us that youngests (or “later borns” in a family) are often much freer than the older children to be creative and go in new career directions. This was definitely true for Phil. Only one of his four grandparents had been born in this country, and during the Depression, Phil’s father went to work in the garment industry, eventually rising to become Vice-President. Phil’s older siblings were lawyers and he might have been one too if he hadn’t been the youngest. His mother, however, was an activist who took people on and followed her own beliefs, and Phil clearly picked up a lot of her values and functioning style as he was growing up.

Phil chose not to become a lawyer, but has worked for non-profits, small businesses and in the public sector throughout his career. He has often had to raise the monies for his own salary in order to work for causes he believes in. He told me that any work he does must have meaning for him. When he came to CISA in 2008 the recession had just hit, and keeping the organization going financially was a struggle for a while. There were nine excellent employees, and he learned a lot from them since he wasn’t an expert in the field of agriculture when he started nor did he have the lived history of CISA which had existed for fifteen years at that point.

Phil’s leadership at CISA is grounded in respect and considerable autonomy for the people who work for him. He tries hard to figure out how to “enable their excellence,” meeting with them regularly, listening to their thinking, supporting their projects, and avoiding emotional triangles. Phil has spent much of his own time and energy building a local governing board (now consisting of 18 members, one third of whom are farmers), cultivating a donor base so that CISA has become solid financially, and developing CISA into a mature membership organization (it now has more than 340 farms and farm related business members in addition to 650 community members and hundreds of additional supporters). He does a lot of public speaking and writing, and has made CISA a real presence in the community.

Phil’s father never quite understood “mission-driven” work and occasionally used to ask Phil why he was doing what he does (“Can you make money doing that?” he would ask). Other family members have had more understanding of his work, but overall his entire family has always been supportive. Phil is well-connected to his extended family and his community and they all help keep him on track. So his leadership is a natural expression of his family values, his own beliefs, his good humor, and his high-energy enthusiasm for the work.

Do you have leaders like Phil in your community? What makes them tick? What can you learn from them that will help you be a more effective leader in your own workplace? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Katharine Gratwick Baker, PhD July, 2013


Lincoln and Leadership

I went to see Spielberg’s “Lincoln” a second time this week in order to verify whether Lincoln was really the perfect example of Systems Based Leadership I had thought he was when I first saw the movie after Thanksgiving.  Even though Lincoln was born more than a hundred years before Murray Bowen, he apparently had an instinctive way of defining himself that is remarkably congruent with Bowen’s ideas about leadership.

From the very beginning of the movie, Lincoln is direct and respectfully attentive with all those around him, from simple foot soldiers, to Secretary of State Seward (to whom he says “I always listen to your opinions with three ears”), to his wife and youngest son Tad, to members of Congress, to the young men typing out Morse Code telegraph messages in the middle of the night, to the wounded soldiers he visits in the hospital.  He reaches out, touches a hand or a shoulder, asks people their names and what they think, and then he truly listens to their answers.  He takes the best thinking of others into account, and then through rumination, weighing the consequences, stepping back and then stepping up, he makes decisions, defines his “I” position, and moves ahead to implement the actions he believes are best for the country.  It is in this sense of his higher purpose, that he is not making decisions based on his own preferences, but on what he believes is best for the Union, that makes his leadership so compelling.

Lincoln often uses anecdotal humor to lighten the atmosphere when a discussion gets too intense.  His stories help people relax, breathe, laugh, and think more clearly.  He carves a pencil and tells a story during a Cabinet meeting, but ultimately he is powerfully decisive when he draws a line in the sand and states, “I am the President, the Commander in Chief of this great nation, and I want those votes.”

Lincoln believes in going slowly when people disagree.  The radical leader of the liberal wing of the Republican Party, Thaddeus Stephens, tells him to be a “real leader,” to hurry up and demand more sweeping language in the 13th Amendment.  Lincoln responds, “I admire your zeal, Mr. Stephens,” but then he points out how a compass may indicate where True North is, but how it always fails to tell us where the swamps and deserts lie between where we are now and where we want to go.  To get to True North, we usually have to take circuitous routes, which can involve triangles.

Triangles are of course not specifically labeled in the movie, but they are everywhere:  Lincoln, his wife, and their oldest son who wants to drop out of college and join the army; Lincoln, Secretary of State Seward, and the representatives of the Confederacy; Lincoln, Stephens, and the other members of Congress. In every case, Lincoln makes clear where he stands and then communicates his position to the other two sides of the triangle.  In Systems Based Leadership this is called “de-triangling.”

We don’t learn much about Lincoln’s family of origin from the movie, although he mentions his father once as “a rough man but fair.”  He says his father wasn’t kind, “but I learned kindness from others” probably referring to his older sister Sarah and his affectionate step-mother who joined the frontier family with her own three children after Lincoln’s mother had died.  There is an undertone of tremendous sadness throughout the movie – the deaths of his mother and two of his beloved sons from sudden illness, and the deaths of more than 600,000 young men who died fighting in the Civil War are huge sources of grief – but these losses seem to spur Lincoln to think ahead toward a “liberal peace” that will reunite the country when the War is over.  He asks the representatives of the Confederacy, “Shall we stop this bleeding?” and he is ready to rebuild the country without retribution or revenge when he has their full surrender.  He always has the big picture, the long future in mind, as does any leader who is high on Bowen’s Scale of Differentiation of Self.

If you haven’t yet seen Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” I recommend it as a powerful example of “Leading a Country in Anxious Times,” while maintaining one’s sense of solid self.  You may even find that it inspires your own workplace leadership.

Katharine G. Baker, PhD

Leadership in Burma/Myanmar

I recently presented a paper on a political leader from Burma/Myanmar at a family systems theory conference in Worcester, MA. This topic might seem far-fetched for an audience of family therapists, but I thought they would be interested in the qualities of leadership that transcend culture and are, to some extent, universal throughout the human species. When I heard that President Obama would soon be traveling to Burma/Myanmar, the paper seemed as though it would be even more timely, since people would surely know where Burma is and might even be interested in learning about one of its famous political leaders.
The leader I focused on was Aung San Suu Kyi who was born in Burma in 1945 after her father had led the country to independence following sixty years of rule by the British Empire. While her father was working to establish a viable democracy in Burma, he was assassinated by ethnic radicals in 1947 and, after a brief experiment with democracy, the country was taken over by a military dictatorship that maintained power for fifty years.
Aung San Suu Kyi was the oldest girl and third of four siblings, two of whom died during childhood. She was raised by her widowed mother first in Burma and then in India, where her mother served as ambassador from 1959 to 1967. So Aung San Suu Kyi was educated in India and later went to Oxford for university training. She married an Englishman in 1972; they had two sons and lived a comfortable, academic life in Oxford. In the summer of 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi received a call from Burma telling her that her mother had suffered a severe stroke, so she packed her bags and flew there to care for her mother during the final months of her life.
While she was in Burma caring for her mother, a student strike erupted, and revolution against the military dictatorship broke out. Aung San Suu Kyi was persuaded by the dissidents to become a leader of the resistance because she was her father’s daughter, and her only surviving brother had emigrated to the United States, refusing to become involved in the crisis enveloping Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi stepped up, spoke eloquently on behalf of the movement for democracy, and traveled around the country promoting the idea of a multiparty system, as well as non-violent resistance to the military regime. Ultimately the dictatorship brutally suppressed the uprising, renamed the country Myanmar (in 1989), and Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest, where she remained for 15 of the next 20 years.
While under house arrest she led a disciplined, orderly life, reading extensively, writing essays, practicing the piano, and connecting through the wider society of Burma/Myanmar through meditation. Her husband and sons were not allowed to visit her, and her husband died of cancer in 1999. She received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. When she was released from house arrest in 2010, she was welcomed back into the leadership of Burma by millions of her countrymen. The military dictatorship had softened, elections were held, and Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to parliament. Since then she has traveled widely, received the Congressional Medal of Honor while in the U.S. in 2012, and reunited with her adult sons.
What are the factors that made it possible for a person like Aung San Suu Kyi to function so solidly and consistently while under extreme duress? Much of her personal strength comes from her family: the legacy of her charismatic father, the founder of modern Burma, and her mother who raised her to be a disciplined, orderly, and well educated woman. In addition, her deep personal connection with the country of Burma/Myanmar sustained her during her years of isolation. Although she had not been raised as a religious person, she began to meditate daily while under house arrest, as a way to connect with the Burmese Buddhist spiritual tradition. I believe that Aung San Suu Kyi is high on the scale of differentiation of self, as her functioning remained balanced and stable throughout her years in public life even when she lived under extreme stress. She consistently articulated her values and beliefs in the public arena, and strove to live by them even when cut off physically from her family members. She was committed to non-violence while leading resistance to the military regime in Burma. She reported low levels of anxiety and reactivity that might have impaired her ability to keep herself on course.
The leadership challenges faced by Aung San Suu Kyi are far beyond those that most of us face in our families, work, and community lives. However, we can learn from studying people whose functioning rises to the highest levels, especially when under stress, and identify the universal strengths that all humans can draw upon to some extent.
– Katharine Gratwick Baker, PhD
November 20, 2012

Passion and Anger: Are they different or two sides of the same coin?

For me, the fun in writing these blog posts is thinking through difficult issues that my leadership team and I face in our company and in the wider community of the healthcare industry in which our organization operates. Using systems-based theory as a framework for understanding the emotional context of our challenges helps me manage my anxiety so that I do not act strictly on emotion; rather I strive to use awareness of my emotions to more objectively examine the facts of the situation and the options available to me as a responsible leader. While I usually discuss the importance of getting beyond the emotional state to a more thoughtful place, in this blog post I am going to share my thoughts on the difference between two emotional states, which can be the same in intensity, but may lead to different outcomes. I will be interested to hear the thinking of our readers on whether or not some emotional states can be more or less useful in informing our cognitive processes.

Passion and anger are the two feeling states that I have been pondering this past week. Many of my colleagues are expressing their concern and displeasure over the impending delay of a regulatory change that was announced recently by a federal agency. The announcement caught most people in our industry by surprise, and the range of reactions has varied from relief, to confusion, to outrage. I didn’t encounter anyone who was emotionally neutral upon first hearing the news. However, over the past week all sides of the issue are starting to be vetted and, as the facts continue to emerge, my associates and I will do our best to evaluate the best course of action for our company and for our clients. And I am certain that others in our industry will do the same.

However, I have also observed that some individuals are having a much harder time getting past their initial emotional response. One individual in a leadership position was furious about the possibility of a delay; she expressed her objections angrily and often over the past week. When a colleague tried to discuss the issue calmly, the angry individual lashed out, asserting that the colleague didn’t have the same passion for the issue that she did. In hearing the story, the use of the word passion caught my attention because I think that passion and anger are different, and that having a passion for one’s work or profession is good because it contributes to better performance. Passion is an expression of joy and happiness that is associated with the emotions that arise from play, physical pleasure or a deep sense of commitment or accomplishment—passion is an emotion that energizes and inspires creativity, and produces a sense of satisfaction and calm. It is an emotion that appears to me to be associated with the release of endorphins. With higher endorphin levels, we feel less pain and fewer negative effects of stress.

In contrast to passion, anger arises from fear, the natural response to a threat. Also known as the stress response, fear increases one’s cortisol levels, providing a burst of energy and greater focus in the short run, but it also narrows one’s vision, and reduces the ability to see a more varied range of options. Further, if the stress response isn’t quickly followed by the relaxation response, the cortisol levels remain elevated longer and have long term costs to the human, such as impaired cognitive functioning and physiological changes like lowered immunity and other health responses. In short, being angry for more than a brief time in response to a real threat is costly to the individual and to the group in the long run.

Thinking about one’s emotions, whether positive or negative, and having an awareness of the role they play in decision making is important because cognitive processing is not only informed by emotions but also affected by it physiologically. The emotionally aware leader needs to ascertain the difference between passion and anger in self. Knowing what kind of emotion one is experiencing can help produce a calmer, more thoughtful, more positive response and yield a greater range of choices for decision making.
Leslie Ann Fox, February 24, 2012

Systems-Based Leadership and 360⁰ Evaluations

“Do you use a 360⁰ evaluation process to improve the performance of top managers” is a frequent question I get from students of systems-based leadership. The short answer is, “no, we do not use it.” I think the 360⁰ approach is unnecessary and possibly counter-productive. Instead I use principles of systems-based leadership to guide my thinking about evaluation in the workplace. The 360⁰ evaluation is other-focused, a technique that is in contrast to the principle of focus on self, while having an awareness of the larger system. This important systems principle encourages individuals to reflect on the part that they play in the success or failure to meet business objectives. This principle provides me with a broader perspective than a focus on individuals, and creates more options to consider for improving performance.

Instead of 360⁰ evaluations, I encourage our leadership team and managers to meet with direct reports regularly, at least weekly, and in the course of those meetings to discuss the challenges that both the employee and manager have around key issues. The purpose of the regular meetings is to determine what the employee needs to do to be more successful. The manager could just be available for brain storming or the employee might need some assistance with resources, technology, or process improvement. The supervisor and the employee focus on solving problems or advancing the business, rather than getting caught up in discussions about personal styles, etc.

Leadership is a reciprocal process. When focusing on business issues, each party should explore what is needed to better assure success in his or her respective sphere of responsibility. It is important for managers to provide guidance to employees, but also to ask for feedback on how the manager is helping or hindering the accomplishment of important work. If that feedback includes how the manager’s performance is contributing to the problem, rather than the solution, that is all right as long as the feedback is based on fact. To get this kind of valuable feedback, directly from the employee in real time, managers can’t be defensive. They need to take time to reflect and respond thoughtfully. Criticism from employees doesn’t mean they are automatically right or wrong; they may not have all of the facts, or their facts may not be correct. But showing respect by engaging in a thoughtful conversation in which both parties search for a better solution, benefits the business and both parties. Conversations of this nature are ongoing, with progress being made over time.

One way to keep these discussions focused on work is for all staff to have written goals they develop with their immediate boss. These goals can be professional development goals, project goals, or other performance goals. During their regular meetings the goals drive the agenda, allowing for open and honest discussions about progress on the goals, obstacles to success, and actions needed to keep things moving in the right direction. Goal achievement at the individual, team, department or organizational level is an objective way to evaluate performance.

Like other aspects of systems-based leadership, improving the performance of top managers, or anyone in the organization, is more collaborative and less formal than a 360⁰ evaluation, with less focus on individuals and more on the business challenges. It encourages people to work on increasing their emotional maturity, by managing their anxiety in an important relationship (employee-boss). Communicating regularly around factual matters helps both parties learn to have difficult discussions in a non-anxious way, and encourages people to put out their own best thinking. Just as in a family, where we don’t have formal performance appraisals or 360⁰ evaluations, a high performance workplace has continuous engagement around important issues; everyone takes responsibility for their own emotional functioning, which lowers anxiety and enables more creativity, flexibility and clear thinking throughout the relationship system in the business.

Leslie Ann Fox, January 11, 2012

The Tending Instinct: An Alternate Stress Response

Book Review of The Tending Instinct: How Nurturing is Essential to Who We are and How We Live by Shelley E. Taylor (Henry Holt and Company, 2002).
Shelley Taylor is a professor of psychology at UCLA who specializes in research on stress. Several years ago she and some doctoral students were attending a lecture on responses to threat in laboratory rats. The lecturer emphasized the usual “fight or flight” response that we think of as typical reactions to threat or stress. As Dr. Taylor discussed the lecture with her students afterwards, she realized that she had often observed different reactions to stress when studying humans. One of her students commented that, “You know animal researchers study only male rats… Female rats have such rapid hormonal changes that you can’t get a clear picture of their stress responses.” Another student noted that, “Most of the biological studies of human stress use only men, too,” apparently for the same reason.
The male bias in stress research had been “a well-kept secret” for Taylor, and when she looked into it more deeply, she discovered that “prior to the mid-1990s, only about 17 percent of the participants in studies of biological responses to stress were women.” This led her to further research on female responses to stress, and she found that “females of all species, including humans, have been the primary caretakers of offspring, and females’ responses to stress… have evolved so as to include some measure of protection for their children” or others they care for. She also found that women turn to social groups in times of stress. She and her students began to broaden the accepted definitions of stress to include what they had come to see as common female behaviors when under threat, including protecting offspring and turning to friends for support. According to their discoveries, the stress response had to include “tending and befriending,” as well as “fight or flight.”
Taylor’s book, The Tending Instinct, explores this discovery in much fascinating detail, as she describes her subsequent research on the evolutionary and hormonal underpinnings of these patterns in women. The book includes chapters on “tending in marriage,” women’s friendships, the “social context of tending,” and then a final chapter on “the tending society.” This last chapter is perhaps most relevant for readers of Leading a Business in Anxious Times.
Taylor references an article from Business Week that reviews several surveys of male and female behavior in the workplace: “Whereas men and women were equivalent in strategic planning skills and issue analyses, women consistently outperformed men in motivating others, fostering communication, and listening to others,” skills dependent on knowing how to “tend and befriend” that women acquire through their biological responses to life stress. It isn’t that men don’t also have these capacities, but their hormonal make-up leads them more in the direction of “fight or flight” responses to stress. Taylor quotes a business consultant as saying that men try “to live up to an outmoded stereotype of what a male leaders should be like – aggressive, controlling, dictating solutions to problems, instead of building consensus.”
Systems-based leadership wouldn’t draw such sharp contrasts in human behavior based on gender differences alone, but would also include the level of differentiation of self in assessing stress responses. Our assumption would be that men and women who are low on the scale of differentiation would probably react to stress within the traditional frameworks of gender stereotyping. However, men and women who are higher on the scale have access to a broader range of stress responses than those who are lower on the scale. A highly differentiated male or female business leader would be able to choose whether or not to tend, befriend, fight or flee, depending on what was appropriate to the situation. He or she might also see other options when under extreme stress, such as managing self calmly and non-impulsively, looking for a broad-based assessment of the situation before reacting, searching for constructive, problem-solving alliances with colleagues, and negotiating differences effectively.
Taylor’s book raises fascinating challenges to traditional views about the stress response, but also leaves out the variation in maturity that comes from the families we grew up in and the learning we have acquired in meeting life’s challenges. It’s well written and anecdotal as well as scientific, so I encourage you to read it, broaden your own lens about the stress response, and think about where your stress responses at work might fit, if the scale of differentiation were included.
Katharine Gratwick Baker

A New Book on Systems-Based Leadership

There’s new book out that I’d like to recommend to readers of this blog and of Leading a Business in Anxious Times. It’s called Bringing Systems Thinking to Life: Expanding the Horizons for Bowen Family Systems Theory (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2011), and it is edited by Ona Bregman and Charles White. Four chapters are particularly geared toward business and organizational leaders.

In Chapter 15, “How Bowen Theory Can Be Useful to People in the Workplace: A Conversation Between Kathy Wiseman and Daniel V. Papero,” a business consultant trained in Bowen theory presents several challenging business cases to her colleague, and together they discuss the most effective approach a business consultant can take that is consistently grounded in Bowen theory. This includes working to keep neutral, not taking sides or “triangling” with a client; not overfunctioning or coming up with immediate “expert” solutions to difficult situations that will undermine the client’s own capacity to problem-solve; and maintaining a big picture vision of the way the business is operating.

In Chapter 16, “Bringing Bowen Theory to Family Business,” author Joanne Norton describes her experience growing up in a family business and how it led her to undertake a research project on the most effective non-family and family CEOs in family businesses. In her interviews with successful CEOs, Norton uncovered many useful insights, in addition to the fact that CEOs “need to continually work on defining a self, realizing it is not easy but certainly worth the work.”

In Chapter 17, “Bowen Theory and the Chain Reaction of Bad Leadership and Good Leadership,” author Dennis A. Romig describes how he has “discovered two important concepts as triggers of leadership and organizational performance chain reactions.” They are (a) the role of anxiety and stress in leader functioning, and (b) reciprocal overfunctioning and underfunctioning in leader-subordinate interactions.” He gives examples from his consulting work in which overfunctioning leaders produce a chain reaction of underfunctioning in their employees.

In Chapter 18, “Introducing Bowen Theory to Business Leaders,” John Engels describes a leadership training program he has developed that gives business leaders an opportunity to learn systems theory, explore their own family histories in order to understand their own strengths and vulnerabilities more deeply, learn to define a self, and to think more broadly about the functions of mature leadership. Engels also describes his effort to construct a “less theoretical language for teaching systems theory to business leaders without compromising theoretical soundness.”
All four chapters explore ideas that are congruent with the approach described in Leading a Business in Anxious Times, and will give readers additional understanding of how to apply systems-based leadership to the workplace. I encourage you to order the book and see how useful these four chapters can be for you as you work on improving your leadership.

Katharine Gratwick Baker, PhD


I have been on an island off the coast of Maine for the past ten days, enjoying the cool air while hearing of brutal heat on the mainland. Recently we’ve had thick fog which signals its arrival each morning with the long bleating foghorns of lobster boats out on the bay. Nearby islands fade into the mist. The tide rises and falls silently, and the wind holds its breath.
During yesterday’s fog we decided to take a long walk on the back side of the Basin, a protected salt water lake usually alive with seals, gulls, herons, and occasional fish hawks, but barely visible in the fog that afternoon. The trail, well marked by local land trust volunteers, wound through the woods along the shore and then turned upward onto open stone ledges that could have given us beautiful views of the Basin on a sunny day. Eventually it looped south, back through thicker woods presumably returning us to our starting point. Somewhere along that final loop we lost our way, came to a swampy pond with no further trail markings, and couldn’t figure out which inviting half-path through the tangled undergrowth would take us back to the road. Our puppy had no interest in helping us find the trail, but focused on chasing red squirrels through a maze of fallen pines.
What are your personal guidelines for yourself when lost in thick forest without a compass or perhaps on a business path that seems to be leading nowhere, where your goals are elusive, you know there is a way out, but you also know you’re not thinking clearly. How do you keep yourself calm, look for the sun, listen for bird calls from the nearby lake in order to orient yourself, perhaps retrace your steps, and think through your range of choices? Can systems-based leadership show you a way out of the woods when you are lost? I look forward to hearing your thoughts, experiences, and planning process for “next steps” when you have felt lost on the job.
Katharine Gratwick Baker

Leading in a Time of Constant Change

Happy New Year to our readers, colleagues, friends, and families.  What Leslie and I wish for the world (and for your company, your community, your family and ours) is that systems-based leadership ideas will take off in 2010.  As we write in the introduction to Leading a Business in Anxious Times, the leadership principles we’ve introduced in the book “will enable you and your organization to successfully face the challenges that you encounter in an unknown but constantly changing future.  They will give you the resilience, stability, flexibility, and vision to prepare yourself effectively for whatever lies ahead.  Imagine if your company embraced responding to change as its strategic differentiator.  What could it not accomplish?” (p. 22)

At this point all we know about 2010 (we don’t even know if it will end up as “twenty ten” or “two thousand ten”), is that it will surely involve enormous change and demands for adaptation from all of us.  We will certainly be called upon to analyze, understand, and utilize new technologies, new products, and new ideas for defining and solving challenges at home, at work, and in the wider world.  As you know from reading our book (and probably from your own life), most people experience change and the demand to adapt as stressful.  When we are feeling anxious or stressed out, we can’t think as clearly, we make mistakes, we look for shortcuts, and our productivity and performance go down.

Faced with the inevitability of change in 2010, what can we do about it?  We’ve said that functioning higher on the scale of differentiation (p.110) is the key to managing change and to providing effective leadership at all levels in a business.  And raising your functioning has to start with self-awareness:  “Understanding how you functioned in your family when you were growing up, what triggers your anxiety today, and how you react when you are anxious can inform your thinking in ways that enable you to better manage your anxiety in the present.  Functioning at a higher level of differentiation as a member of an organization is always beneficial; you are less vulnerable to absorbing anxiety from others in the emotional system.  Being a non-anxious presence in the system brings big benefits to the organization…  As a way of leading, differentiation of self is about the value that a thoughtful, self-reflecting, emotionally independent individual brings to the workplace (p. 124).”

Please read on through Chapter 5 to learn more about how to do this.  And write to us about how it works for you as you face the changes that 2010 will surely thrust upon you.

Katharine Gratwick Baker, PhD, Northampton, MA, December 31, 2009.