By Mike Anton, Psy.D.
“The way to strengthen an arch is to put weight on it – because it binds the stones together, and only with tension does it hold weight” -Ryan Holiday
Do you identify as having any type of leadership role in your life? For many of us, a quick inventory of our daily roles and responsibilities is likely to reveal that we are leaders more often than we may think. Although we can’t all be in leadership or management roles in our working lives, the leader in us can still emerge regularly in roles such as parents, older siblings/babysitters, team captains, group projects at school or work, positions in student councils, and much more!
As leaders in both our personal and professional lives, one certainty is that we will regularly and frequently be responsible for making many decisions throughout our day. Many will be the simple decisions, often because of our experience, our familiarity with rules and policies, or the standard of similar decisions made or observed in the past. Others will be much more complicated, more stressful, or heavier so to speak. These are the choices that don’t have a clear-cut solution and that almost always impact those around us, whether family and friends, work colleagues, or business clientele.
Leaders must be ready to face these difficult decisions daily and are often expected to provide answers or solutions on the spot. Leaders must BE the arch. Leaders are called upon to make decisions to bind those we lead together and expected to carry the team, not despite, but BECAUSE of the tension and the weight of such a role. So how can we learn more about how to navigate such a responsibility? What happens when we get stuck?
Great leaders do not seek the easy out or the “path of least resistance,” they understand that they must BE the arch. They do not hope that a decision will help to avoid tension. No, great leaders know that the tension is required for the betterment of the whole; that the hardest paths offer the sweetest reward. Great leaders understand that tension is a symptom of addressing the obstacle, but the obstacle is the way, and the only way is through.
No one can anticipate every possible decision we may face, but does that necessarily mean we cannot be prepared? Of course not! As long as we know how to prepare. We certainly cannot know what the future holds, so attempting to anticipate every challenge we will face is inaccurate and would be foolish. The equivalent of giving a fish, rather than teaching one how to fish. We worry about what to do.
“What do I do?”
“What if I make the wrong decision and do the wrong thing?”
“Do I go with the more popular choice or the one that feels more right”
It’s time to disrupt the pattern. It’s time to learn how to fish. The problem isn’t that we don’t know how to answer or that we are not prepared. The real reason this can be so difficult is because the stress and pressure allow emotion to cloud our judgment. Instead of stressing over what to do for every future decision, try doing nothing for a moment. In a world where we are often expected to be constantly producing and progressing, we have forgotten about the importance of slowing down – the benefits of seeking stillness.
The strategy for being the arch and holding it all together, therefore, is to not react emotionally, or with an emotion-led, knee-jerk reaction. Marcus Aurelius, known as the last of the 5 Great Roman Emperors said, “Be like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it.” We must be like that rock, standing unmoved after the waves of stress, pressure, and emotion crash into our daily lives time and time again. We must stand tall, seek stillness, and wait. Wait for our initial emotional reaction to calm like the water flowing back out to sea. It is here where we are able to rely on our experience and confidence and continue to be the arch, thinking logically and staying strong no matter the tension and no matter the weight.
So next time you are feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, visualize your rock and be grateful! After all, this weight is required for you to be the arch.
Mike Anton, Psy.D. is a graduate of The University of Michigan and earned his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from The Illinois School of Professional Psychology. Mike specializes in healing trauma and mood disorders, teaching coping and organizational skills for living with ADHD, and couples counseling, and he is certified in Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART). Outside of the therapy office, you can find Mike most commonly at Comerica Park, The Big House, reading about Stoicism, or grilling up some steaks in his backyard.