In theory: Anxiety

Emma De Vita's weekly look at management-speak.

The usual default expression on a manager's face - especially for those working in the voluntary sector - is one of worry. Depending on the state of the funding pot, it can range from mild apprehension through medium-level anxiety to outright panic. Worry, anxiety and panic: these are the facts of life for a manager in the modern world.

But you'd be wrong to think that all anxiety is all bad. Robert Rosen, an American psychologist and author of Just Enough Anxiety, claims that anxiety should be embraced by managers, so long as it's at the optimum level.

Too much anxiety causes fear, chaos and loss of morale for you and those you manage. Trying to cover up the panic you feel when your biggest supporter pulls the plug on a campaign is impossible to hide. No matter what you do, cold fear will seep out from under your door and into the atmosphere of the open-plan office.

On the other hand, says Rosen, too little anxiety leads to stagnation and a false sense of security. Achieving the optimum level of anxiety, however, will generate a tension and energy that will push your people to go the extra mile and to surpass their own expectations.

As a manager, how do you cultivate just enough anxiety? Rosen proposes five principles: know yourself; get comfortable with uncertainty; befriend your anxiety; practise non-attachment; and be real. Essentially, they are all about getting to know what makes you tick so that you can work out whether you are worrying about the right or wrong things. The more you recognise what you can and cannot control in your life, the more you will be able to handle uncertainty.

In the end, Rosen says, managers shouldn't waste their energy fighting an enemy that should be their secret weapon. So harness your inner worrier, jump on your steed of anxiety and ride off into the sunset of success.

- Emma De Vita is editor of the books pages at Management Today.

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