These days, there are many managers with anxiety, and as a leader you will most likely have to deal with anxiety in some way – yours or others. In my profession as an Executive Coach, I talk with highly competent and resourceful executives around the world about their challenges, problems, and objectives in life and in work. One question that is being discussed in many of my virtual coaching sessions these days is, how one is dealing with anxiety as a leader. My clients are executives in multinational corporations. Some of them are anxious for their families, companies, and countries. Actually, often they themselves are in a quite good position, but because they have a wider responsibility what used to be the normal pressure can become extra intense in times of crisis.

Would you prefer reading the article in Danish? Then you can read it here.

Normally, it is my clients company that pays for their sessions. I’d like to make my expertise available for free to a wider audience in this article as I know, that many people are struggling to deal with uncertainty at this time where Corona is making it absolutely impossible for anyone to predict the future. So in this article, you will get three ways to deal with uncertainty.

If you are struggling with how to lead in uncertainty you could also follow my articles on how to lead in uncertainty. 

Being a manager with anxiety or dealing with anxiety as a leader can feel like a lonely affair. But actually you are not alone. Not at all.

Feeling anxious is very common

Anxiety is a normal feeling – unfortunately. The numbers for the UK is, that 8,9 million people in 2018 were under treatment for feeling anxious and the same picture shows in the Nordics. In Denmark, where I am based, 350.000 people are feeling anxious on a daily basis and 1 out of 10 will experience anxiety for some reason in life. But it’s not only in Denmark that anxiety is a common feeling. All over Europe we are feeling more anxious than ever before measured. Actually 12 % of the EU population are in treatment for anxiety.

One of the major reasons for anxiety is crises. The corona crisis it provoking uncertainty and anxiety. In new time the Brexit was a big player in increasing anxiety and stress for the EU citizens and of course mostly in the UK. This was a time (and still is) with huge uncertainty. All over Europe, therapists, coaches, psychologists etc. were seeing a jump in calls just after Brexit (and the following month over month) due to the uncertainty it raised. But, it is not only the major crises, that trigger our feeling of anxiety. Also, changes in life and organisational changes can be triggers. Because of the fact that anxiety, stress and depression are so common, and all three classified as widespread diseases, the European Union has made guidelines for companies and institutions facing organisational changes. To me, it shows that the EU takes it very seriously and recognize the unpleasant truth about how much anxiety, stress and depression are infecting our wellbeing.

Research points at, that especially big changes can cause anxiety, stress, and depression which infect the common wellbeing.

Uncertainty is a normal trigger

As you can tell, uncertainty is a normal trigger in the brain for every human being. David Rock from the NeuroLeadership Institute has conceptualized the research, that scientists have made on what activates fear and stress in people. Certainty is a big trigger. It is just so, that not many people, especially not people in power, have the habit of exposing their anxiety. But that doesn’t mean, that they are not feeling it. On the contrary, a healthy person will sometimes feel anxiety.

Uncertainty and anxiety


3 ways to deal with uncertainty and anxiety

In the following, I will point out three approaches to deal with uncertainty and anxiety. Some of the approaches will feel easy, some will feel hard. It is not all quick fixes, but approaches that can make a substantial impact and improvement. Not just now, but for the rest of your life. Some ways might be more effective for some than others, so feel free to adjust and make them yours. Also, you might need to be able to combine some of the ways or add other ones. Every person is unique and that is one of the reasons why coaching is so effective, because in coaching we identify exactly what is provoking the anxiety in you, and what works for you as a leader dealing with the uncertainty and anxiety. So please consider the following to be more generic.

Read the Danish version of the article here.

There is no innovation without agility. I am not talking about agile methods, but agility as a mindset. When I started working with innovation back in 2008, innovation was nice to have. Today, most leaders confront a situation where innovation is need to have and many have experienced the difficulties actually turning innovation ideas and projects into business value and tangible results.

Learning to access more agility is the answer to several of the challenges that leaders confront in the face of everyday change, innovation, new technology and stress. You can try to work more agile, but if you do not increase your individual agility, it is difficult for your organisation to actually become agile.

You may be familiar with the leader who ended an otherwise successful project to minimise risks. This was simply because there were too many unknown factors which were too difficult to predict and too potentially challenging of an outcome to control. Perhaps, you have made a similar decision.

In a stable environment, this is definitely the right thing to do. This is the type of environment where you can anticipate customer behaviour 18 months or more ahead, where you are not in danger of being disrupted, where you are not threatened by stress or new technology, and where success is created by doing the same thing as usual. Yet, in a constantly changing and unpredictable environment, being agile is needed and necessary.

As I write this, my newborn baby is wrapped around my body sleeping peacefully in a sling. He is happy as long as he is close to his mother. This is one of my practical ways to be able to follow my professional passion, balance a demanding career and also be a mum. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but over the years many women have asked me how to be on maternity leave while having a career and professional responsibilities.

Becoming a parent is one of life’s biggest events. For new parents who are deeply engaged in their professional life or career, it creates a lot of difficult questions and dilemmas. If you are becoming a mum or a dad, you have to test many things with a lot of trial-and-error in the process. I would like to share some insights and inspiration for those who are curious about how being on parental leave while professional responsibilities. This can also be thought of as a career woman’s guide to taking maternity leave.

Mixing maternity leave and having a career involves us all.

There is no easy one-size-fits-all answer, we have to share our stories. Not just for the sake of young women, but for the sake of families, companies, and society.  We need to inspire each other and learn how other working mum’s and working dad’s have tackled this dilemma. There has to be room for several models in order for it to work for everybody. Some career women prefer to be off-the-radar for a long time, others do not. Neither are right or wrong, it just depends on the personal preferences. No matter what, I believe the babies should come first and the parents second. But, one doesn’t necessarily exclude the other. There are win-win models to be discovered. Such as, being able to happily write this post, while my baby sleeps close to me.

There is no one-size-fits-all, we must explore and test new models.

One thing is certain: what has worked for one woman, may not work for another. It might not be ideal for to be off-the-radar for 9 months or more. Although it is ideal, not all jobs, managers or companies will make it possible to maintain your responsibilities or position while on leave for a year. Additionally, while some women might find maternity leave as heaven, others might not enjoy being out of touch with their professional passions.

When I was younger, I was concerned about combining my uncompromisingly high standards for parenting with my professional life. I never thought a baby could replace my ambitions. However, with age and time, I have realised doing both of what I love have contributed to making me a better mother and a better role model too.

I often have conversations with other women on the topic. Former Danish Minister Astrid Krag, who was a minister while having a baby, brought her husband with her on the road. This allowed her to nurse her child, be with her family and attend her duties as a minister. Her husband is an artist and very supportive, so this model fit well. However, this might not work for everyone and not all husbands are able or happy to take months out of their career to follow their wife. This stresses the importance of the need to explore other possibilities and models too. So, if you are going to be a parent, I encourage you to be curious and explore what model(s) might be the right fit for you.

The maternity leave stories of managing director and mother of three, Loui Törnqvist

Loui Törnqvist is the Managing Director of at Music Sales / Edition Wilhelm Hansen. She became a mother for the first time when she was 27 years old, just a short time after being appointed as a managing director of company she still manages today. She has three children and each time she dealt with her responsibilities in a new way. Even though she was the same person, none of her maternity leaves were similar.

In this video, Loui shares her story openly and honestly. I believe it is quite a good story on how to be on maternity leave while having a career. Watch our 13- minute conversation and listen to what Loui has to share below.

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