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When You Think About Your Relationships, Does Your Behavior Make Them More or Less Anxious?

When You Think About Your Relationships, Does Your Behavior Make Them More or Less Anxious?

It’s Really Challenging Out There! As a nation and a world community, we face unprecedented and complex challenges. The list of challenges seems endless but here in the US we can list six challenges which are having immense impact…

When You Think About Your Relationships, Does Your Behavior Make Them More or Less Anxious?

It is the province of knowledge to speak 
and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.”

Oliver Wendall Holmes, Sr. 

When You Think About Your Relationships, Does Your Behavior Make Them More or Less Anxious?

Resilient Leadership is a new way of SEEING, THINKING and LEADING.

This new way of THINKING calls us to pay close attention to the Emotional Systems that are a part of everything we do. Emotional Systems govern, for better or worse, all relationships we have with those in our organization, our family or our social circles.

When a leader thinks about emotional dynamics (i.e., “thinks systems”) they reflect thoughtfully first on their own actions, reactions, and interactions and then on the actions, reactions and interactions of others.

Then, equipped with a wider and deeper perspective, the resilient leader has a better idea about what to do, what to say, and conversely what to avoid doing or saying. They act to lower anxiety and build cooperation.

Action:

  • Consider how the emotional dynamic of your team/family/friends is currently functioning. Is anxiety high, low, or somewhere in between?
  • Now, assess your own level of self-awareness and self-regulation. How reactive are you? Is your behavior making these relationships, these emotional systems, more or less anxious? Is cooperation increasing because of what you are doing or perhaps choosing not to do?

Try It:

  • What can you do, specifically, to adjust your own behavior to calm your relationship systems so they are more open, creative, and enriching?
  • What patterns need to change from hindering effective action to promoting effective action in yourself or among others in your team, family or social circles?
  • See what happens. Discover what you did not SEE before. Discover what you did not THINK before.  Discover how you did not LEAD before.

To learn how to SEE, THINK and LEAD more effectively using the resources of Resilient Leadership, please contact us at: https://www.resilientleadershipdevelopment.com/contact-us/.

Mike Nowland, President
Enriched Learning and Development, LLC
A Certified Resilient Leadership Trainer and Coach miken@resilientleadershipdevelopment.com (619) 780-1260

 

Janet Moczulewski

Exhausted? Burned Out? Frustrated? You may be Overfunctioning!

Business Leaders are tasked with solving complex and intriguing challenges almost daily. In this edition of the RL Spotlight, a client of ours, Richard McLaughlin, shares his story of a significant challenge he faced and how…

Exhausted? Burned Out? Frustrated?

You may be OVERfunctioning!

Exhausted? Burned Out? Frustrated?

You may be OVERfunctioning!

As one who overfunctions, you get to do everything – your way! Sound familiar? Sound fun? Not so much. Here’s my story. Last year my friend Susan and I met for a girl’s weekend. I was looking forward to wine tasting and great conversation. She spent most of the weekend complaining about her husband. At one point she said, “He won’t commit to doing things with me, he says he wants to, but he won’t plan.”

I’m thinking … Get a life!!

After listening to her complain for two days, I got frustrated and, at one point, just blurted out, “You should just go by yourself and quit complaining.!” Of course that didn’t go over well. The unsolicited advice (my attempt to solve her problem for her) was my classic over functioning. But even earlier in the weekend, my more subtle over-functioning behavior was listening to her incessant complaints but not sharing with her, that after a while, they made me feel frustrated and even resentful.

“Here is what you should do…”

Instead of asking “what do you plan to do about this?” I offered her unsolicited advice which she did not appreciate.

Janet Moczulewski

Are you an Over-Functioner?

Let’s see. When someone complains about their work or something that is not getting done, do you jump in to help? If they have a problem, will you solve it? If they appear unsure, do you give advice? If they get it wrong the first time, do you take over (because you know it will be done right.). Do you think… If I don’t solve another their problem, it will continue to grow and eventually fall on my plate anyway. Much better to solve all these problems now so they don’t become overwhelming for me later.

Sounds normal, right? Unfortunately, you can’t maintain this pace. It’s impossible. It’s not healthy.

When you overfunction you may become overwhelmed, exhausted, burned out and resentful. But what choice do you have when everyone needs you? When everyone around you is slacking or lazy or they don’t get it done correctly, in other words, your way?

This was me. This was my dilemma.

Fortunately, I learned about Resilient Leadership Development. Working with a Resilient Leadership Coach I learned about a concept called over and under-functioning.  I learned that to overfunction means “to think, feel or act for another in a way that erodes their own capacity for ownership or thoughtful action.” It’s a relationship pattern; anxiety fuels this pattern and the pattern fuels more anxiety.

Overfunction: “To think, feel or act for another in a way that erodes their own capacity for ownership or thoughtful action.”

I learned a “new way of seeing.” I learned that over and under-functioning is anxiety driven and a reciprocal phenomenon. In other words, if I overfunction at work or in family life, others will under function around me. The more I’m anxious, the more I over function. Anxiety is shared and others around me under function in response and, I become more anxious. Understanding the pattern, I learned how I contributed to my own dilemma. This new way of seeing allowed me to slow down and step back to observe what was really happening in my work and family. It has taken a lot of self-awareness and a lot of practice, but I have learned to calm my anxiety by resisting the urge to step in and rescue others, which then calms the anxiety in the whole system.  Each time I am able to resist this urge, I reverse my anxious energy and it makes the next time easier. I am less overwhelmed and there is less anxiety in me and the people around me.  With this “new way of seeing” I have a “new way of thinking.” Do I still have the urge to take over and give advice? Of Course, but I no longer must follow that urge, I am able to choose my actions.

029-Janet-Moczulewski-by-JennyJimenez

Janet Moczulewski, LMFT
Resilient Connections, PLLC
To learn more about over/underfunctioning from Janet, contact her at https://resilientconnections.com. To learn more about the principles of Resilient Leadership, please email Jim Moyer at jimm@resilientleadershipdevelopment.com.

Visit this page often to learn from other people how the Resilient Leadership model has transformed their careers and lives.

3 Ways to face Un precedented and Complex Challenges

3 Ways to Face Today’s Unprecedented and Complex Challenges

It’s Really Challenging Out There! As a nation and a world community, we face unprecedented and complex challenges. The list of challenges seems endless but here in the US we can list six challenges which are having immense impact…

3 Ways to Face Today’s Unprecedented and Complex Challenges

It’s Really Challenging Out There!
As a nation and a world community, we face unprecedented and complex challenges. The list of challenges seems endless but here in the US we can list six challenges which are having immense impact: COVID Pandemic, Socioeconomic Inequality, Global Warming, Political Turmoil, Damaged Supply Chain and Deteriorating infrastructure. This list could go on and on.

3 Ways to face Un precedented and Complex Challenges

Learning how to pace and manage ourselves, day by day, in the face of the chronic anxiety caused by these profound challenges is a responsibility we all have. We all know this at some level. But to act well, that is, to take right action in high anxiety-producing situations demands a level of self-awareness and self-management that is not commonly practiced, especially these days.

Action:
Every action we have is a composite of what we think and how we feel at the moment. When we think a situation or topic of conversation is safe, we are more open and engaged. When we feel threatened by a situation or topic of conversation, even in subtle ways, we instinctively shift into classic defensive modes. We fight, flee or freeze in order to protect ourselves. And the stronger our feelings of being threatened, the more likely our emotional self will overwhelm and eclipse our thinking self.

The key is to be more of a “witnessing awareness” of our own thinking and feeling states of mind and to take actions (or not) to make a comment (or not) with more of our thoughtful self rather than our emotional self.

Try It:

How can I build up my “witnessing awareness”?

  1. Be Present — Spend as much time as possible being present to unfolding moments of your life. Learn to watch your own mental processes. Minimize time spent on past regrets and future concerns and devote more and more of your thinking and feeling with attention on the present. Relax. Focus. Be in the moment.
  2. Take “It” On — Peace of mind is not achieved by working to avoid conflict in life, but rather by learning to deal with life’s conflicts with calm and composure. Peace of mind starts with fully engaging the situations we face daily, making the best of those situations, and then accepting and being present to our current reality.
  3. Live Your Life in the Now — Appreciate each day as a miraculous gift. Recognize that whatever happens, the moments of each and every day only come once in our life. Learn to welcome those moments and recognize each of them as the precious gift of life itself. We do well to embrace the days of our life without longing for something else to be true. Accept each day; learn from it; grow from it. Move forward.

For more insight on the causes and adaptive behaviors linked to chronic anxiety, download our (PDF) resource.

 

Richard McLaughlin

Richard McLaughlin Shares His Story About Managing Toxic Triangles to Solve Complex Problems and Reduce Chronic Anxiety

Business Leaders are tasked with solving complex and intriguing challenges almost daily. In this edition of the RL Spotlight, a client of ours, Richard McLaughlin, shares his story of a significant challenge he faced and how…

Richard McLaughlin Shares His Story About Managing Toxic Triangles to Solve Complex Problems and Reduce Chronic Anxiety

Business Leaders are tasked with solving complex and intriguing challenges almost daily. In this edition of the RL Spotlight, a client of ours, Richard McLaughlin, shares his story of a significant challenge he faced and how one of the core practices of Resilient Leadership contributed to his ultimate success!

Richard McLaughlin

Here is how Richard described the situation that led to his decision to reach out to us for support: "As the lead operations executive of a Global Contract Services company, we successfully negotiated a system wide contract sale to manage the food service and housekeeping operations of 55 hospitals over five years for a National Hospital Operations Organization. This contract agreement was negotiated by the Hospital Systems Supply Chain leaders. While the supply chain and hospital corporate leaders were eager to have our support in operating these services more cost effectively, the Hospital Administrators themselves saw this agreement as a threat to their autonomy as they did not participate in the decision making or negotiating of the contract. Previously they were able to decide locally who would operate these departments in their hospitals."

In Resilient Leadership, one of the Core Practices we teach is how to Manage Triangles.

Triangles are inevitable and are the foundation of every relationship system. It's how triangles are managed that makes them healthy or toxic.

In this example, the three components of the triangle are the Corporate leaders / supply chain leaders, the Hospital Administrators (and their staff,) and Richard (and his team.) This situation is ripe with opportunities for the creation of what can become "toxic triangles." The supply chain leadership sought economies of scale and cost savings, the local hospital leadership struggled with a lack of control, and Richard and his team had to deal with many triangles formed by shifting and different priorities of all stakeholders. Richard and his team could very quickly find themselves struggling in any number of toxic triangles. A new way of Seeing, Thinking and Leading were required or Richard and his team could fail.

Having had previous experience with Resilient Leadership training and coaching, Richard brought in Jim Moyer to teach his team how to manage triangles before he initiated the contract agreement. Among other RL principles, Jim taught the team how to recognize triangles in relationships, how conflict creates toxic triangles, and how to avoid getting caught in a toxic triangle that makes it difficult to think clearly. This proactive training gave Richard's team the awareness it needed to avoid being blindsided by either of the other parties involved.

Understanding triangles improved the team's ability to communicate openly and reduced the amount of chronic anxiety that naturally occurs in any relationship system with such challenging dynamics. This led to several innovative communication techniques and processes that have been used in many similar situations by the team.”

Visit this page often to learn from other people how the Resilient Leadership model has transformed their careers and lives. If you'd like to learn more about Resilient Leadership, email Jim Moyer at jimm@resilientleadershipdevelopment.com.

Jordan Wilkins - Resilient Leader

Step-Down Transformer and A Life Threatening Mountain Emergency

Discover how leaders are applying Resilient Leadership principles in their lives and how it’s helping them rise above the turbulent forces of today’s emotional challenges, enough to even save a life!

Step-Down Transformer and A Life Threatening Mountain Emergency

Discover how leaders are applying Resilient Leadership principles in their lives and how it's helping them rise above the turbulent forces of today’s emotional challenges, enough to even save a life!

Resilient Leadership's dramatic impact on Jordan Wilkins helped change her life.

Step-Down Transformer and A Life Threatening Mountain Emergency

Discover how leaders are applying Resilient Leadership principles in their lives and how it's helping them rise above the turbulent forces of today’s emotional challenges, enough to even save a life!

Resilient Leadership's dramatic impact on Jordan Wilkins helped change her life.

Jordan Wilkins - Resilient Leader

Resilient Leadership has impacted the way I approach life, without a doubt. I have always been known as a people pleaser. As I got older, I became more and more anxious.

All growing up I had coaches, teachers, and friends constantly telling me that I need to be more assertive. I need to be “meaner” (yes I have actually been told this!). I need to stand up for myself. I started to get this vision in my head that a good leader was aggressive, outgoing, and loud. And I was never going to be any of those things. It just did not feel authentic to be that way. So, the belief that I would never be able to be a good leader was becoming more solidified in my head.

Resilient Leadership came into my life unexpectedly. I didn’t realize how their teachings would really influence me in leadership, and in life.

They completely reframed the way I think of leadership and leadership roles. No longer did I believe the false narrative that leaders have to be loud, assertive, and outgoing. Great leaders CAN have these qualities, but there is not a set of characteristics that make the best leaders. Great leaders can also be calm observers, empathic, and creative. Or a combination of a million things.

I also learned that leadership roles are not reserved only for teachers, coaches and mentors. A leader can be a mother, a friend, or in my case a climbing partner.

I knew Resilient Leadership had started to impact my life after a mountain emergency. My partner had a big boulder roll down the mountain and crush his leg in the middle of the backcountry in the Holy Cross Wilderness in Colorado. This left him with a compound fracture and… I will spare the rest of the details. No one around but me, him, and our friend Wes, 6 miles away from our car, at 13,000 ft of elevation. The action started at around 4 pm and continued for many hours, into the next morning. Talk about an anxiety provoked situation! This was an actual life or death condition and I immediately jumped into action. I had to make quick, assertive decisions to help the helicopters land, keep Nate alive and calm, and help the rescue team. I am not claiming to be the only leader on this day because everyone played a critical, huge part in the rescue. However, I wonder what would have went differently if I had waited to be told what to do, or constantly second guessed my decisions.

You might be wondering what this experience deep in the backcountry of the mountains has to do with the Resilient Leadership model.

Let me tell you! First and foremost, I stepped into my role as a step-down transformer that day. As you can imagine, the incident was high stress. We were all navigating extreme emotions and high levels of anxiety, while also trying to get things done as quickly as possible. The idea of being a step-down transformer pops into my mind when I think back on this event. I realized that letting my anxiety take over and losing my cool would create a chaotic environment for Nate and our friend Wes. Resilient Leadership has taught me that reacting to strong emotions disrupts clear and effective communication. In a life or death situation like ours, this was simply not an option. I have always been told I have a calming presence. I didn’t realize how to use this for leadership until that day. Resilient Leadership gave me the tools to capitalize on my strengths as I kept Nate calm, made decisions with conviction, and communicated with clarity. The best part was I didn’t have to pretend to be something that I wasn’t while leading through this experience.

Everyone told me to be more confident and trust myself, but never showed me how. Thank you, Resilient Leadership, for actually showing me how!

Visit this page often to learn from other people how the Resilient Leadership model has transformed their careers and lives. If you'd like to learn more about Resilient Leadership, email Jim Moyer at jimm@resilientleadershipdevelopment.com.

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives

How We Spend Our Days Is How We Spend Our Lives

Think about the day ahead: What meetings, conversations, and key activities are on your calendar?In light of that ask yourself, “What matters most today?”

“How we spend our days,
is of course,
how we spend our lives.”
— Annie Dillard

  • Think about the day ahead: What meetings, conversations, and key activities are on your calendar?
  • In light of that ask yourself, “What matters most today?”
  • Consider how you want to show up in your day, the kind of attitude you want to bring and the impact you most want to have on people and projects.

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives

Action:
During the Day

  • Take SMART Breaks Every 90 Minutes to Refuel and Reboot (Especially while doing complex thinking or problem-solving)
  • A Smart Break can be as simple as:
  • Stretching your legs
  • Breathing mindfully for a minute or two
  • Walking and getting a change of scenery
  • Connecting with a colleague
  • Smile

Try It:

  • We are coming out of the COVID dark time. Get out there and have a good day.

Thanks to Bridgette Theurer for her contribution to this month’s Practice of the Month. To learn more about Bridgette and her work check out
https://clearcompass.com

Learning How to Control Your Actions and Reactions is Up to You

Learning How to Control Your Actions and Reactions is Up to You

We arrive at adulthood carrying within us deep scripting from our family of origin. That family includes our immediate circle (mom, dad, siblings), our more extended circle (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins), and our ancestors from many previous generations…

Learning How to Control Your Actions and Reactions is Up to You

We arrive at adulthood carrying within us deep scripting from our family of origin. That family includes our immediate circle (mom, dad, siblings), our more extended circle (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins), and our ancestors from many previous generations.

Learning How to Control Your Actions and Reactions is Up to You

This scripting creates a “way of being” and a “way of acting/reacting” that is largely instinctual and automatic.  Our everyday actions and reactions are driven by forces which exist below the level of our conscious awareness. Because it is so deeply ingrained, this genetic scripting is extremely powerful and has a major impact on every aspect of our daily lives. Our functioning arises from two distinct yet intermingled dimensions— a rational or thinking system, and an emotional or feeling system. Every interaction we have is a composite of what we think and how we feel at the moment. When we think someone is trustworthy, we tend to be more open and receptive to that individual. When we feel threatened by someone, even in subtle ways, we instinctively shift into classic defensive modes. We fight, flight, freeze in order to protect ourselves. The stronger our feelings of being threatened, the more likely our emotional self will overwhelm and eclipse our thinking self.

Learning to be a more mature “self” is a lifelong process of trying to keep these two dimensions integrated and in a healthy balance. This process occurs gradually across our lifespan and involves both greater self-awareness and better self-management skills. The more frequently we are able to recognize the interaction between our thinking and feeling selves, and how often they automatically drive our ways of being and acting, the more we are able to have choices in how we respond to the unfolding events of our day.  The result, over a lifetime, is that we develop more “self.” We become less and less anxious in the face of threats, we become less reactive, more grounded, more thoughtful, more resilient, and finally, more at peace.

Action:

Becoming more of a “self”

  • Spend as much time as possible being present to unfolding moments of your life. Learn to watch your own mental processes.  Minimize time spent on past regrets and future concerns and devote more and more of your thinking and feeling with attention on the present.  Relax. Focus. Be in the Moment.
  • Peace of mind is not achieved by working to avoid conflict in life, but rather by learning to deal with life’s conflicts with calm and composure. Peace of mind starts with fully engaging the situations we face daily, making the best of those situations, and then accepting and being present to our current reality.
  • Appreciate each day as a miraculous gift.  Recognize that whatever happens, the moments of each and every day only come once in your life.  Learn to welcome those moments and recognize each of them as the precious gift of life itself. Embrace the days of your life without longing for something else to be true.  Accept each day, learn from it, grow from it.  Move forward.

Try It:

Where to begin?

  • Throughout the day consider:
    • What part am I playing in this situation?
    • What is the responsible thing for me to do?
  • Then take the steps that your deepest self is urging you to take.

Getting to the Core of Self-Differentiation

Getting to the Core of Self-Differentiation

The growing complexity of an evolving brain suddenly reached a tipping point that made us capable not only of consciousness—the ability to sense and interact with our environment—but of self-consciousness.

Getting to the Core of Self-Differentiation

Getting to the Core of Self-Differentiation

Our species—the human animal—shares a great deal in common with our evolutionary ancestors. But somewhere along the line, a shift occurred that has set us apart—decisively—from every other species that has inhabited this planet from the origins of life itself. The growing complexity of an evolving brain suddenly reached a tipping point that made us capable not only of consciousness—the ability to sense and interact with our environment—but of self-consciousness.

The ancient myth of Narcissus points out the inherent danger of this new-found ability: our self-awareness can breed a fatal fascination with gazing on our own image. But we also know the risk of Narcissus is far outstripped by the potential reward of gaining a better grasp of the nature of our own humanity. We are curious creatures with a restless quest for understanding more and more about ourselves as well as the world around us.

Our understanding of human nature has been like a flowing river, a stream of growing wisdom accumulated across many millennia. Modern science in the 19th and 20th centuries added in significant ways to that body of knowledge, first with Darwin’s focus on our evolutionary origins, and then with Freud’s revelation and exploration of the hidden dynamics of the unconscious. In the second half of the 20th century a Freudian-trained psychiatrist by the name of Murray Bowen introduced a new perspective on human nature by recognizing universal laws at work in the functioning of every natural system, from swarms of bees to multi-generational families to human organizations of every scale. A disciple of Bowen, Edwin Friedman (d. 1996), focused on how the emotional systems of leaders impacted their capacity for effective leadership. In the 21st century, various followers of Bowen and Friedman have applied and integrated their insights in fields as diverse as executive coaching, neuroscience, positive psychology, mindfulness, organizational development and other allied disciplines.

Resilient Leadership LLC, in particular, has recognized the richness of Bowen’s notion of “self-differentiation” (SD) as a key to effective leadership. Bowen Theory defines SD as “an individual’s capacity for independent thought and action (self-definition) while maintaining a balanced connection to significant others (self-regulation)”. The premise of the leadership development initiatives provided by Resilient Leadership LLC is that the higher is one’s level of SD, the greater is that person’s capacity for effective leadership.

The expression “emotional maturity” has sometimes been used in place of SD, but it is important not to equate this with “emotional intelligence”. The significance of emotional intelligence (EQ) for leadership success has been well researched, and there now exists abundant evidence that all things being equal, leaders with higher EQ tend to be more successful than those with lower scores. Many of the skills associated with EQ are certainly also part of SD, but Bowen’s understanding of emotional maturity is a broader and deeper concept.

SD has to do with one’s ability to maintain a healthy balance between two polarities that are foundational to our human functioning. The first polarity is between the rational and emotional dimensions, our capacity for thinking and feeling. The human animal is unique in its capacity for rational thought. Contemporary neuroscience has deployed an impressive array of technologies to explore this most evolved part of the human brain, the neocortex, which is the seat of rational thought. It has likewise advanced our understanding of the parts of our brain where our instinctive and emotional dimensions reside. A narrow focus on either one of these can contribute to a compartmentalization, as if the thinking-feeling polarity was between two completely separate entities. The truth is that the connections between both parts of our brain are vast, and the interplay is constant. The push-pull of reciprocal thinking-feeling forces that we might conceptualize as separate is an ongoing dynamic as our whole brain seeks moment by moment to achieve a healthy equilibrium in light of the external (and internal) stimuli we are encountering and managing.

The second polarity is between two primal needs that we share in common with all life forms on this planet: autonomy and intimacy, the need to be a separate individual, and the need to be in relationship with others. This separate-together/distant-close polarity is an ongoing balancing act that is often described as the “dance of life” as it is played out in the give-and-take of our every relationship.

What, then, does emotional maturity look like in a leader who does a better-than-average job at self-definition and self-regulation (aka SD)? These would be a few of the behavioral manifestations:

  • Capacity to get outside the emotional climate of the day
  • Willing to be exposed and vulnerable: a prudent risk-taker
  • Has a clarity of vision, values, guiding principles
  • Acts in accord with vision, values, guiding principles regardless of challenges
  • Able to offer and ask for help in a balanced and self-aware manner
  • Takes full responsibility for own actions and functioning
  • Sets and reinforces boundaries for self
  • Respects others' boundaries
  • Is as concerned about the success of others as self
  • Able to respect the opinions of others, even those who disagree
  • When challenged is neither dogmatic nor angry
  • Keeps focus on self rather than trying to change others

Unlike adult development models that describe a sequence of stages that one achieves one after the other, SD is a lifelong process of striving to keep one’s being in healthy balance. Emotional maturity is a way of being in the world of relationships, challenges, mishaps and recovery with greater calm, clarity and conviction. Leaders who are present in this way to the individuals and organizations they lead are not guaranteed smooth sailing in their life’s journey. But regardless of the turbulence they encounter, such leaders will experience a higher rate of success than would otherwise be the case; and they will enable others to show up with their “best self” more often and with better-than-expected results. Resilient Leadership LLC has proven resources to support leaders who wish to strengthen and grow their current level of SD. For more information, contact Jim Moyer jimm@resilientleadershipdevelopment.com.

Bridgette Theurer on Over-Functioning

Bridgette Theurer Discusses Over-functioning

Over Functioning – To think, feel or act for another person in a way that erodes that person’s capacity for ownership or effective action. Watch this short video of Bridgette Theurer as she shares important insights about Over Functioning and learn more about how you can avoid this trap in your life.

Bridgette Theurer Discusses Over-functioning

Over Functioning - To think, feel or act for another person in a way that erodes that person’s capacity for ownership or effective action.

  • How to avoid Over Functioning – A 3 Step Process
    • Step 1: Observe the tendency to Over Functioning in yourself.
    • Step 2: Hit the pause button next time you are triggered by anxiety to “save” someone. Then stop and ask yourself the key question: “How can I be a resource to this person without taking away their initiative and willingness to take action?” Then take action as appropriate.
    • Step 3: Practice Steps 1 and 2 a lot. Over time your capability to spot your tendency to Over Functioning and ask yourself the key question will become second nature. When this happens, you will have a dramatic positive impact on your leadership, on your life and on your relationships.

Would you like more information about this? Please email Jim Moyer, or contact us here. Or fill out our online self-assessment if you want to do an to see where you're at.

Understanding the Emotional Systems in Schools

Understanding the Emotional Systems in Schools

There is a hidden dynamic in society that is potent, pervasive, and impacts all aspects of a functionality. This is especially prevalent in our schools. Revealing this hidden world and understanding its impact is key to moving schools forward.

Understanding the Emotional Systems in Schools

Understanding the Emotional Systems in Schools

A Case Study of effective, real-time change in an Ohio High School

There is a hidden dynamic in society that is potent, pervasive, and impacts all aspects of a functionality. This is especially prevalent in our schools. Revealing this hidden world and understanding its impact is key to moving schools forward. What follows are examples of how our school used a conceptual framework known as Resilient Leadership, based on Bowen Family Systems Theory, to help our team better understand this hidden world as we moved forward. Our school needed a framework to help everyone navigate the emotional tumult that inevitability occurs through the process of improvement.

Principal, Jeffrey Hartmann of Stow-Munroe Falls City Schools, in Ohio describes the change his schools underwent under the guidance from Resilient Leadership Development.

According to Hartmann, “Teachers need expressions of personal regard and support as much as anyone else does, it is the intersection of the technical aspects and the emotional systems that is the focal point of Resilient Leadership.”

Resilient Leadership examines the recursive nature of emotional systems response to rational, technical, processes. Much of the literature related to change leadership seem to focus on the technical work of improving organizations through structures, processes, strategies, or vision creation. Other work approaches change as a culture-building enterprise, creating feelings of momentum, celebrating small victories, and embracing positivity and resiliency throughout the firm.

When the school opened 1987, it instantly became the largest high school in our county. There was never a high school-specific, school-wide focus to improve that applied to everyone. The organizational inertia was strong. Hartmann continued, “Our teachers expected to be left alone and teamwork was an anathema.”

“When we ask people to change or improve, we are, in essence, asking them to break their loyalty to the person or place that bestowed that belief set in the first place. Understanding this deep emotional connection was very important for me as a new school principal trying to move a building forward that had not ever experienced change. Collectively and individually, we lacked the skill sets to successfully navigate the emotional tumult associated with change.”

The conceptual models within Resilient Leadership were applied by many with the help of their Resident Leadership coach, who became a crucial guide on their improvement journey. Resilient Leadership is a framework established by Bob Duggan, Jim Moyer, and Bridgette Theurer in their books Resilient Leadership (2010), and Resilient Leadership 2.0 (2017). The goal of Resilient Leadership is to improve a person’s or a system’s emotional differentiation. A basic definition of emotional differentiation is an individual’s ability to separate thinking from feeling.

Hartmann went on to describe some of the key critical elements identified by Resilient Leadership in order to support improvement. “We focused on: the concepts of the rational system and the emotional system, over and under-functioning, being a step-down transformer, and relationship triangles.” With the help of coach John Moyer, “our work began during professional development sessions for our school district.”

John then started to hold book studies and then branched into individual leadership development sessions for other teachers in building. Soon, the district leadership asked John to provide his services district-wide to any interested teacher or administrator. The Resilient Leadership 2.0 book joined other supporting texts to form the “canon” of our school improvement program.

“In so doing, it reduced anxiety because the staff was better able to identify what they were feeling and why.”

Emotional and Rational Systems

Hartmann exclaimed, that, “One of the first instructive experiences I had was understanding that there was a whole world that was invisible but reacted directly with the tangible world in front of me. We term these two worlds as the ‘emotional system’ and ‘rational system,’ respectively Rational world changes include, but are certainly not limited to, policies, procedures, evaluation frameworks, shifting priorities, and the like. These rational world changes often have a direct emotional system reaction both within an individual and within a group.”

The entire Resilient Leadership framework aims to grow the capacity of individuals to reduce their emotional responses, reducing system anxiety regardless of the stressor. The Resilient Leadership authors explain that the internal feeling of being off-balance is considered a form of reactivity. Being able to be thoughtful amid heightened anxiety is known as emotional differentiation. Essentially, emotional differentiation suggests that individuals have more than one method of coping with change, thus keeping their chronic anxiety in a state of balance. Emotionally differentiated individuals can stop, think, and respond in a thoughtful way to a change. Individuals with less emotional differentiation, however, provide an automatic, immediate and less thoughtful, reaction to a change.

Teacher anxiety and stress rates are well-researched, international phenomenon. The multiple, ever-changing policy and practice expectations that educators face take a heavy emotional toll and contribute to high amounts of anxiety and eventual teacher burnout.

We see the deleterious effects of stress with productivity decline and job satisfaction trending downward, resulting in otherwise good teachers feeling forced to leave the field. Conversely, teachers who can regulate emotions and, by extension anxiety, display a higher job satisfaction and positive affect. “Teachers who are calm, positive, and content are likely to be better equipped to treat students warmly and sensitively, even when students behave in challenging ways”. The conceptual frameworks presented in Resilient Leadership assist educators in understanding these multiple stressors and should be given the same priority as pedagogical theory in teacher preparation programs.

Over-and-Under Functioning

Over-functioning is generally regarded as the reciprocal relationship where one person or group is overly responsible while another person or group is irresponsible. “At a meeting with union representatives one afternoon, they provided a list of chronic areas of improvement. The topics had titles like ‘morale is low,’ ‘communication is poor,’ and ‘leadership visibility.’ When I asked for more specifics, the representatives were not able to share anything further. I then asked the representatives to come to the meeting with a few proposed solutions so that, as a team, they could work together to solve problems.”

Hartmann said that it was, “an uncomfortable meeting because the representatives were waiting for me to offer solutions, as had been custom for previous administrators. I declined to provide answers, however.” A few days later, he spoke with some of the members individually and was able to unpack the key elements of the situation. “These impromptu meetings assisted in my understanding of the block to offering solutions.” He continued, “For the better part of a decade, the union vice president worked closely with the building administration, and building representatives were mostly ceremonial. When a changeover in the union vice president position occurred, an elementary-level teacher filled the position. As a result, the high school administration had to work with building representatives who never had to exercise leadership before.” The Resilient Leadership coach orchestrated one-on-one sessions helping build their capacity as leaders so that the roles of the team equalized, and effective collaboration could take place.

To level out the functioning of individuals, we need to engage in new learning experiences to build capacity. This build is not linear, not rapid, and has a significant amount of emotional processing involved. To encourage an under-functioning individual or group to move beyond their current parameters requires a challenge which disrupts the emotional system mentioned earlier.

Step-Down Transfer

During times of organizational stress, interactions among people and groups can become tense as they search for resolutions or determine where to place blame or both. Resilient Leadership speaks of leaders as “step-down transformers,” an analogy to the role of these devices play as part of our power grid. Members of any social network have the power to increase or decrease the anxiety within that social network. When others engage in gossip, raise voices, shout, or display hostile body language, they are adding anxiety to the system. In effect, they are acting as a step-up transformer. Step-down transformers remain calm amid stress, provide thoughtful responses, and ask thoughtful questions.

Hartmann continued, “one morning, one of my leadership colleagues attended a department meeting regarding the emotionally charged topic of final assessments. The department was comprised teachers with a high degree of reactivity amongst the group. During the meeting, teachers lobbed question after question to her while she responded in a thoughtful and calm tone. Internally, her anxiety was rising, but she knew that if she reacted with an equal level of emotion, she could have increased the negative momentum within that network.” The leadership colleague stayed connected by listening and weathered the storm. “Regardless of how much of an emotional crescendo that was taking place, she was determined to explain her thinking calmly, in order to show others how to respond constructively, and not add to the negative momentum.” Understanding one’s emotional state and whether one can act as a step-down transformer is a vital element of self- awareness and a critical skill for all members of a system to exercise.

Triangles

Triangles exist everywhere, and when the system or network is calm, they remain invisible. When under stress, however, triangles are more clearly seen. In his book, Failure of Nerve, Ed Friedman expands on the idea of emotional triangles that form between three individuals or between two individuals and an issue.

Triangles form most often when organizational stress increases, and schools are no exception to that phenomenon.
“One afternoon, one of my assistant principals was working in her office,” Hartman describes, “when a teacher stopped by and out of nowhere, started talking about the person recently placed on administrative leave. She soon realized that the teacher on administrative leave had many friends in the building who were speaking on his behalf and advancing his cause for reinstatement. Being “triangled” is now part of our school-wide lexicon.” We have all been caught in triangles and often realize it after the fact. Having this awareness during the act of “triangling” better guides comments and actions during the conversation.

The Resilient Leadership framework has supported our change initiatives since 2015, bringing people together, focusing our efforts, and guiding us through a hidden world that often thwarts school improvement.

Ohio’s schools are not alone as they face a constant set of changing parameters that impact their work with kids.
American education has become a political football, and American educators unfortunate actors in a constant back-and-forth between the left and right elements of the political spectrum. We see a national reduction of people wanting to enter the field of teaching, with 54% of parents saying they would not want their child to enter the field of education.

Summarizing the effective initiative, Hartmann said, “in our small corner of the country, in suburban Ohio, I believe that the introduction of the Resilient Leadership framework has helped us understand and emotionally process the world around us, while also moving our practice forward, seemingly despite all odds. Change is risky for leaders and terrifying for everyone else.”

When asked about the impact of the Resilient Leadership experience, Hartmann said, “We have found that our use of Resilient Leadership has reduced our fears and provided valuable insight into the hidden world of emotional systems. When asked about the impact of the experience with Resilient Leadership, Hartmann said, “It has helped many of our educators, leaders, and students, and I hope that you also find equal amounts of insight and guidance.”

Here are some resources to help you understand some of these concepts better:

Step Down Transformers (PDF)
Triangles (PDF)
Understanding Reactivity (PDF)
For more information, email JimM@resilientleadershipdevelopment.com

About Jim Moyer...

Jim Moyer

Jim is a founding member of Resilient Leadership, LLC, and is the co-author with Bob Duggan of the book Resilient Leadership. Jim is an Executive Coach and strategic planning and organizational development consultant with over 30 years experience in for-profit, not-for-profit, and government organizations.

Jim has successfully grown his consulting and coaching practice since 1998. Before he began his consulting practice Jim worked for 25 years at Marriott International as a manager, director, and senior executive in Strategy, Organizational Development, Human Resources, Quality and Loss Prevention.