How to lead… anxious people

Anxiety is on the increase. Stress levels are higher than they’ve been for years and it’s not uncommon for us to come across those whose first response is to fear the worst. They may even be on your team. How do we lead those whose anxiety is a barrier to making progress, both in terms of God’s kingdom and their own well being?

Obviously this short blog post isn’t going to be able to pin point the exact issue within your team member, nor will it provide a magic wand to instantly rectify the problem. However here are some principles that may help.

The truth is, we all come with baggage. Each of us has a past, some more positive than others. When communicating your vision, or laying out a strategy, or even asking someone to complete a task, the hearer will receive the information through their own personal filter. This filter contains a variety of factors; their faith, their trust in you, their morals to name but a few. And of course, a large part of their filter will be their previous experience, and it’s human nature for anyone who has been hurt in the past to be cautious of repeating events in the future.

It may also be that they simply have a more cautious personality, wanting to allow time for making the right decision.

Also, many of us have the propensity to lose control of our minds and allow our thoughts to tumble forward. “If X happens,” we say to ourselves, “than that means Y could happen, which means Z could happen.” When it’s positive it’s called vision, when it’s negative it’s called anxiety.

So what can we do to lead people displaying traits of anxiety?

  • Use inclusive and pluralistic language to show they’re not alone and won’t be left unsupported going forward. Remember, “Us and we” instead of “you and me”.
  • Acknowledge what they’re thinking. Seek genuine care for what they’re processing. Ask questions such as, “What exactly are you concerned about?” and give them time to fully express their thoughts. Keep asking for more until all the concerns are laid on the table.
  • Help them think about preventing the worst from happening. “If we had to do something, what would prevent this worst-case scenario from happening?”
  • Help them to look objectively at the current situation and distance it from previous experience. “How likely do you think these things are to happen to us in our current situation?”
  • After laying out the negatives, get them to consider the positives equally as objectively. “I hear your concerns of the way forward, I’d now like to know your thoughts on what the successes could be.” Give people time to come back to you on this, even in a new conversation, but ensure they do return with their thoughts.
  • Pray with one another, giving the concerns to God together.
Joel Preston

Joel Preston

Director at
Joel is the Director of Evangelism & Mission for British Youth for Christ. He had previously been involved in church-based youthwork for over 10 years and before that spent 4 years at a local Youth for Christ centre.

He specialises in delivering leadership and people management training in a ministry context and has taught for various organisations across the country, including SoulNet, Innovista, SWYM and Youthwork the Conference.
Joel Preston

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