As a transformational leader, understanding a foundational element about people can really help us understand some of what people experience as they go through change, often a difficult process for many people. One of the elements that affects our ability to change is something that we all experience at different times. It’s anxiety. Let’s talk for just a moment about what your staff, your children, your coworkers, your sports team may go through individually as they are going through change. 

The Causes of Social Anxiety

I’m talking about a specific term called social anxiety. Social anxiety emerges when there are two things at play with us or with the people around us. This social anxiety comes when we have a fear of failure plus a motivation to succeed. When a fear of failure plus a motivation to succeed come together, that causes us to be anxious. What happens then is these two emotions can cause us to underperform or to overperform. When you know and address the things that cause your team to be anxious, to be socially anxious, you can help put those things to rest and help your team perform at a much higher level.

What also happens when we are with our peers and with our teams is that the fear of failure and/or the motivation to succeed actually increases. When we are with our peers, our fear of failure and motivation to succeed actually increase. In our organizations, in our families, in any organization we’re in, we’re going to see people experience this very thing. If you have children, you know your children often come home full of social anxiety. On the first day of school, they go to school with social anxiety especially if they go into a new grade in a new school because they have a fear of failure plus a motivation to succeed. The same thing can happen with salesmen. It can happen with customers. When those feelings come together they can cause a lot of stress. 

The Difference Between Distress and Eustress

When that stress kicks in, there’s two kinds of stress that start to happen. There’s distress which most of us have experienced. It’s the kind of stress that causes us to underperform. It can cause us to shut down and perform at a lower level than we normally would. There’s another kind of stress called eustress. Eustress is good stress. “Eu” is the Greek word for good. Eustress can actually raise our level of performance, but if it’s too much, it can cause us to overperform. If we overperform, it actually is just as bad as underperforming. An example would be a basketball team. If they have too much eustress, every shot they take is long. If they have distress, every shot is short. The same thing happens in a company. Many times in a production facility, they’ll produce eighty percent of their shipping at the end of the month, during the last week. Because they have all the eustress going, they got it out the door. But, then the first week of the next month they do nothing. 

The Effects of Distress and Eustress

What most people don’t understand is that both of these stresses can be equally hard on the body if we stay in either one of them too long. So if we are going to have some eustress, the key is not to stay in it too long. If we are in eustress too long, it can actually wear our bodies down because both eustress and distress can wear us down. 

Also, it’s important to know that if you have a team of people, with a team being your children, your employees, or other groups you are a part of, one person’s eustress could be another person’s distress. For example, if you ask a room full of people how many here like to run, some percent, typically a much smaller percentage, will raise their hands. For them, running is eustress. It’s something called a runner’s high. If you ask the rest of the room how many don’t like to run, the rest of the room, probably most of the room will raise their hands. When they run, it’s distress.

The same thing goes on when we are making decisions in any organizations we’re in. We can drive someone’s distress up while someone else’s eustress is going up. As transformational leaders, we can learn to recognize when that’s happening and why that’s happening. Then we can learn how to reduce social anxiety through the tools in Transformational Leadership and how to keep possible stresses maintained at a more comfortable level. As leaders, we just have to be aware when social anxiety is in play, and, when it’s in play, to take it out of play.

Ford Taylor is a leadership strategist, keynote speaker, and the author of Relactional Leadership. As the Founder of Transformational Leadership, he is known as a man who can solve complex business issues, with straightforward practical solutions, while maintaining his focus on people.