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Managing anxiety

Friday, January 28, 2022 at 11:20:50 PM

A lot of my time this year has been focused on managing. Management is something I have to be intentional about because I’m happy and most comfortable reverting to individual contributor work. Concrete tasks like writing a line of code, generating a document, or cleaning data.

Management work is not concrete. It is a Matryoshka doll. It looks like one thing but it is many things. The observable, addressable problem is often just the outer Matryoshka. Your goal should be to get to the Matryoshka core. Doing so will save you a lot of heartache and months of time.

So, what is the inner Matryoshka? How can one save heartache and time? The simple answer is to keep asking questions until you understand the emotional core. What the person is feeling is what needs to be solved.

I expect the most common core problem your people may have is feelings of anxiety. Humans are anxious creatures. Anxiety can creep into anything. Anxiety can be useful but is often counterproductive. Next time you are solving a managerial problem, see if you can find the anxiety.

Ideally, the anxious feelings originate inside of the organization because at least you have some control over those feelings. All too often, the anxiety lies outside of the office. When the anxiety is outside the organization, the best you can do is listen, lighten the workload, and have empathy.

How can you solve organization-generated anxiety? Acknowledge it exists. If an employee is behind on a project, you can push back the deadline. If an employee doesn’t know her value to the company, you can tell her. Anxiety is uncertainty. Find how you can provide your employee certainty.

The last thing worth noting on the subject is that sometimes anxiety is too low. If an employee is not meeting expectations, you need to intercede and dial up the tension. Elon Musk seems to be a expert in dialing up tension in a productive way. See his recent email to the SpaceX team:

SpaceX email sent by Elong Musk

What is your inner Matryoshka? What is the inner Matryoshka of the employee who is causing the most problems on your team. 🙏

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This post was not edited. If you see a typo, let me know and I'll fix it.