Book of the Quarter: UPROAR: Calm Leadership in Anxious Times

UPROAR: Calm Leadership in Anxious Times, by Peter L. Steinke, Rowman & Littlefied, Lanham; Copyright © 2019 by The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc; ISBN 9781538116531

Peter Steinke died July 13, 2020. This was his last book. He had been studying, writing, and teaching about family systems for twenty-five years. I went to a workshop he led at Montgomery Bell State Park. We have just finished his book, Healthy Congregations: a systems approach, in our staff meetings at Central. His teaching and influence will be missed. His books have helped me to grow in my self-leadership.

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Here are “mustard seeds” I highlighted in his book, UPROAR:

The system perspective gave me the vantage point from which to view emotional process, whether I was observing a family, a congregation, a hospital, an educational unit, a small business, or a large company. I learned that six major triggers incited anxiety in these systems, and no one trigger affected the emotional system more than the leadership, whether the leaders were parents, priests, principals, presidents, board chairpersons, owners, or chief operating officers. How any one of them handled self in the emotional system was more determinate than anything else in terms of outcome (Location 60, Kindle Edition).

Viruses, demagogues, parasites, bullies, sexual predators, and name-calling blamers function in the same way. They have no boundaries, they do not respect the boundaries of others (and obviously go where they don’t belong), they must have it their own way, and they never learn from their experience. Being in a role of leader, one may be tempted more than others to be a transgressor or trespasser if one thinks of self as entitled or special (Location 85, Kindle Edition).

How you handle yourself in times of change, ambiguity, or adversity is the touchstone of leadership. It is not how you persuade, cajole, or mandate others to behave (Location 113, Kindle Edition).

Any social system—a family, workplace, or even a whole society—improves when people function less and less in reactive ways and more and more on the basis of values and beliefs sustained by clear goals (Location 119, Kindle Edition).

Humans are more than chickens, cats, and horses; we think, reason, and feel before we act. Animals do not read manuals on how to behave, nor do they think about things before they act. Instinct takes care of it all. But we make decisions that are scrutinized and make sense. Even then, we are subject to our impulses (pages 6, 7, Kindle Edition).

As for leadership, until and unless you recognize the power of your own instinctual life, you will continue to assess outside conditions, persons, or ideas to be the cause of your or others’ nervous unrest (page 8, Kindle Edition).

If the leader becomes anxious and forfeits calm reflection, the system is essentially leaderless. Anxiety tumbles down like loose rock dislodged from a high position. In a time of Uproar, the leader cannot be as anxious as everyone else (page 8, Kindle Edition).

Differentiation is about maturity. Your maturity is determined by how well you balance two emotional needs of being separate and close (page 9, Kindle Edition).

Nothing complex or controversial happens without confusion, resistance, or emotional reactivity. All tensions, traumas, and transitions leave a trail of anxiety. This is where you enter the story. Anxiety alone will not harm or endanger a system. How anxiety is addressed will determine the outcome more than anything else. Your responsible and enlightened behavior is the touchstone (pages 13, 14, Kindle Edition).

Because of the infectious nature of anxiety, the leader’s apprehensiveness contaminates the whole system (page 19, Kindle Edition).

People seek relief from anxiety. Humans are known to bind anxiety by finding scapegoats. Blame displacement tends to be focused on two functioning positions, regardless of who may be in those positions—namely, the most responsible and the most vulnerable (page 19, Kindle Edition).

The non-anxious presence means we are aware of our own anxiety and the anxiety of others, but we will not let either determine our actions. Obviously this means that we have some capacity to tolerate pain both in ourselves and in others (page 51, 52, Kindle Edition).

In the Biosphere in Arizona, a three-acre greenhouse in the desert, people noticed that the fruit was falling off the trees prematurely. What had happened? Inside this encapsulated environment, wind, a force that challenges the trees’ branches and strengthens them, is absent. Without wind, the branches do not gain sufficient strength to hold the fruit to the time of maturation (page 60, Kindle Edition).

Opportune times to challenge usually appear

✽ when the community hits bottom;

✽ real events open eyes and sharpen awareness;

✽ a sudden, shattering experience occurs; or

✽ the system is in a learning mode and someone capitalizes on it (page 60, Kindle Edition).

Seldom, if ever, does change happen because at first a majority votes for it (page 61, Kindle Edition).

If the leader adapts his functioning to the weakest members, he enables their dependency, encourages their happy ignorance, and reinforces their helplessness. To protect a system from bad news or upsetting changes is to admit that the system is weak and fragile, too brittle to be challenged. The threshold for pain is low, and the opportunity for changing is negligible (page 62, Kindle Edition).

It is wise to remember that whenever someone cuts off from someone significant in their life, anxiety continues, but the awareness of it diminishes. The anxiety not resolved in one relationship tends to be acted out in another one unknowingly (page 72, Kindle Edition).

Not all conflicts are equal. Some are harsh and bitter. Yet many conflicts can contribute to the growth of a group and make a positive contribution. The quality of leadership applied to the situation significantly determines the outcome (page 116, Kindle Edition).

What distinguishes the human family from the rest of nature is the human capacity to observe automatic behavior and substitute principles for impulses, developing more thoughtful approaches to life’s challenges (page 122, Kindle Edition).

In the early stages of a conflict, it is almost impossible to overinform. As much information as possible is needed. Providing information tends to minimize the need for people to create information for themselves through gossip and embellishments of what they have heard. By communicating forthrightly, leaders also treat the members as mature adults who can handle whatever information is shared, not as children who need to be protected from bad news (page 123, Kindle Edition).

When people sense that there will be an orderly effort in place, they think things are not totally out of control. People yearn for clear and decisive action. When specific goals are followed, the people have confidence that the system has the means to get out of the misery they have gotten into and to move forward again. Good structure corrals anxiety (page 123, Kindle Edition).

To dislodge the ensuing impasse, an outside third party with a more objective set of eyes is needed. Select someone outside of the emotional system who will be fair and frank. The people involved in the dispute are too close to what is happening to get an overview or to get a sense of perspective. It is also difficult for them to carry out the thinking operations necessary to bring clarity to a situation when emotional factors run strong (page 124, Kindle Edition).

Peace is often preferred over justice. People can resist or be hesitant about taking stands, making decisions, or charting a course of action that would offend or upset the community. By placing a premium on togetherness, they play into the hands of the most dependent people, who can threaten to incite disharmony as a way of receiving what they want. When superficial harmony prevails, the pursuit of justice is sacrificed (page 125, Kindle Edition).

Secrets—that is, hidden agendas and invisible loyalties—in most cases need to be brought to light (page 126, Kindle Edition).

Sabotage of the process for dealing with conflict should be expected. The usual saboteurs will be those who are losing control or not getting what they want from it (page 126, Kindle Edition).

Final or perfect solutions are not available. Conflict leaves things messy. The best solutions to insolvable problems are the approximate solutions—ones that prepare a system for new learning and a new beginning (page 128, Kindle Edition).

Studying the American family, psychologist Marshall Duke claimed, “We were blown away!” Duke and several assistant researchers discovered that children who knew a lot about their family’s history did better later in life when they themselves were challenged. Knowing the ups and downs of their families prepared them to be more resilient and proactive, moderating the effect of stress. They were able to influence the outcomes in their lives, avoiding any semblance of what Bowen called “functional helplessness” (page 134, Kindle Edition).

“Every great leader,” Howard Gardner said, “is a great storyteller.” Another sage remarked that the six most powerful words in any language are “Let me tell you a story” (page 138, Kindle Edition).

System theory contends that one’s level of maturity, not flash and feathers, is what defines leadership. No system will rise above the level of maturity of its leaders. Leaders, therefore, work on their own development and growth. Leaders essentially seek to understand their own functioning, use principles to instruct action, and work on defining themselves (page 140, Kindle Edition).

To evaluate and/or buy this book on Amazon: #ad UPROAR: Calm Leadership in Anxious Times

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Jerrie Barber
Servant of Jesus, husband to Gail, father to Jerrie Wayne Barber, II and Christi Parsons, grandfather, great-grandfather, Interim Preacher, Shepherd coach, Ventriloquist, barefoot runner, ride a cruiser bicycle

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