Lesson 1 - The Leader's Anxious Instinct 

The Anxious Response 

When You Don't Know What To Do 

In his book Managing Leadership Anxiety, Steve offers a very simple definition of leadership: “knowing what to do.” But just because the definition is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. As Steve explains, “a leader feels immense internal and external pressure to do something” in virtually every circumstance. 

The problem is that in many—perhaps most—situations, we simply don’t know what to do. This is where anxiety sets in. Steve illustrates this tension through his experience as a hospital chaplain, but every leader knows what he’s talking about. For example, a trying situation arises and everyone in the room turns to you; you need to do something

But here’s the catch: “For many of us,” Steve says, “the instinct to act and do something is often not actually a helpful instinct, it’s an anxious one.” This is particularly true of pastors, who may feel like they’re being paid to say something in the face of grief or crisis or loss. Leaders generally are uncomfortable with silence and inaction, so we often multiply the anxiety in the room rather than quelling it. 


  • Steve defines leadership as “knowing what to do.” Think about your leadership context. What are the expectations placed on you as a leader? Name a situation in which you had to do something even though you didn’t really know what to do.  

  • Our first instinct to act in a trying situation is usually an anxious response, rather than a helpful one. Losing our temper, insisting on having the last word, demanding everyone’s attention, blazing forward without pausing to think, acting before hearing multiple perspectives—these are all anxious responses. Take a moment to reflect on how you usually respond in trying leadership situations. How does leadership anxiety manifest in your handling of these situations?

What Anxiety Does 

Have you ever felt a sense of angst and restlessness regarding your work? Have you ever wondered if you were doing what God has called you to do?
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