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Positive Leadership Trumps a Freak Out: 4 Exercises for the Business Leader

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Guest post by Katie Kemple, regular guest contributor to Women Grow Business & COO of Capitol News Connection, a multimedia news non-profit. She holds an Executive Master’s in Leadership from Georgetown University and believes in the power of positive thinking (plus embracing failure as a path to success). Katie is writing a memoir about being unemployed and a book on finding joy in leadership. She can be reached through her blog Love Your Layoff.

Don’t Freak!
When I was a kid, I was a tremendous worrier. I had this one ballet teacher who would shout at me in class: “Don’t freak, Katie! Don’t freak!” But, I couldn’t help myself. That’s who I was, that’s how I managed my life.

Freaking out made me feel like I was in control.

If I didn’t obsess over it I might fail. In some parts of my life obsessing over details seemed to work (cramming for tests for example) but in ballet class the more I freaked out, the more I failed.

One of my best friends, Kathleen, who was a high achiever, used to remark: “You’re always busy, Katie, you always have so much work to do.” Mind you, we were in the exact same classes at school. She was besting me on just about every test. And yet, Kathleen could not be more cool, collected and laid back. My mental excuse for our differences was simple: Kathleen was smarter than me. She had a higher IQ. She didn’t need to freak out, because she was naturally gifted and intelligent.

I needed a break.
By the time college applications rolled around, I was burned out. I couldn’t stand the thought of spending another four years working and worrying 24/7. I needed a break, so I became a creative writing major at Emerson College. I was in heaven at Emerson. It was everything I wanted life to be: creative, stimulating, relaxed. The worry flew off me like dandelion seeds to the wind. And I still did well. My grades were just as good as they were in high school.

Being a free spirit and a business leader — weren’t those two in opposition?
Back then, I could have never imagined a future where I would be head of operations at a company. Being a free spirit and a business leader — weren’t those two in opposition?

But here’s what I’ve found: the work gets done whether you worry about it or not.

The “worry” is what happens when you’re not “doing the work”. If you’re putting your time in, and doing what needs to be done, then there’s no need to worry. And there’s no need to make your employees, vendors, and partners worry needlessly.

As the leader of a company, others are constantly looking to you for clues.
If you’re worried, they’re worried. And if they’re worried, they’re going to spend more time worrying and less time “doing the work”. As Eckhart Tolle writes in his book The Power of Now: “When you are full of problems, there is no room for anything new to enter, no room for a solution. So whenever you can, make some room, create some space, so that you find the life underneath your life situation.”

During tough economic times, it can be hard not to freak out.
We’re all worried on some level. But I guarantee you, freaking out at the office and planting fear in those around you will only make things worse. You — and your employees, vendors, and partners — will have closed your minds to the best solutions.

Exercises to Kill a Freak Out
When it feels like the world’s crashing in on you, try these methods to expand your thinking.

  • Appreciate:
    Take time to thank people for their efforts and let them know that you appreciate their work.
  • Acknowledge:
    When things aren’t going well, admit it. Make a list of what you can do to help. Then either start acting on the items, or assign dates/times to tackle each. Clear your mind of the to-do list until the designated hour arrives to act on it.
  • Braindump Fears:
    Write a list of your worst fears concerning the situation at hand. Writing your fears gets them out of your head, and decreases their power of your mind, mood, and energy.
  • Look:
    Go for a walk outside. Look at the sky and observe how beyond its dome is endless space. How big are your concerns compared to the universe?

More on leadership online:


    1. Reminds me of when i used to get so worried about failing my last year in high school. Then i got to a point where i said failure is not an option and i worked my but off to succeed and graduate.

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    2. Katie, this is so beautifully written. Thank you. The ability to restabilize is indeed the key to succeed.

      There is an entire organziation dedicated to helping people understand the impact of stress, the American Institute of Stress, and they have many resources:
      http://www.stress.org/

      Another interesting resource is the “De-Stress Kit for the Changing Times” available at:
      http://www.heartmath.org/templates/ihm/section_

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    3. Mary, thanks for your comments and for sharing such useful resources. The de-stress kit has some great advice and exercises in it.

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    4. Thanks for the De-Stress Link.. :)

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