The Anxious Organization

I am a great fan of the book The Anxious Organization by Jeff Miller, a management consultant, therapist and coach.  He clearly articulates what happens to people within an organization when leaders fail to demonstrate centered thinking and calm behavior during times of unrest and organizational stress.

He suggests that the following behaviors should clue leaders that it’s time to step in and calm things down:

  • Turf battles
  • People taking sides with other people rather than taking positions on issues
  • Blaming and scapegoating
  • Mixed messages
  • Distancing & withdrawing
  • Increased gossip
  • Sabotage
  • Pretending to agree

Another symptom of anxiety – that I see –  is the employee who either overfunctions or underfunctions.  This is the person whose stress levels send him or her into fight or flight mode.  You may have seen this person yourself:

Overfunctioners take on more than their share of responsibilities.  They can become concerned about other people’s performance, offer unsolicited advice and try to control all aspects of a project.  On the outside it can appear that this person is hardworking and responsible.  The reality is that this person becomes bossy and dominating.

On the other hand, the underfunctioner does the opposite.  This employee becomes helpless when things get stressful. He or she looks for constant reassurance and advice, asking for unreasonable amounts of help and sending the message, “I am needy!”.

Together they create quite a dance!

When leaders note these patterns, it’s time to take action.  Boundary setting, accountability and agreed-upon expectations lead parties to understand individual responsibilities.  In some cases, an organization’s Employee Assistance Program might prove useful to help people see their behaviors more clearly.

Jeff Miller talks about “the power of one!”  One person can help calm an organization. One leader can make this difference.  It starts by paying attention to cues from your team that say, ‘I’m feeling anxious and uncomfortable.”




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