CNLP 337: Steve Cuss on Managing Leadership Anxiety, Spotting Unlikely Signs of Stress in Yourself, and How to Tame Your Fears in a Crisis

Steve Cuss has spent years helping leaders manage their anxiety. In this interview, he talks about how to handle the elevated anxiety you’re feeling in leadership during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Steve identifies some surprising signs of anxiety many leaders miss and outlines some practical ways to tame your fears during crisis.

Welcome to Episode 337 of the podcastListen and access the show notes below or search for the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and listen for free.

Plus, in this episode’s What I’m Thinking About segment, Carey gives his latest thoughts on the COVID-19 crisis and how to respond as leaders.

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The Ascent Leader

Do you have a transition coming up in your future, even five to ten years out? I transitioned out of the senior leadership role at our church about five years ago. Succession is a significant moment in your life. My friend, Sean Morgan, at CDF Capital curates custom-built co-horts for senior leaders that you can apply to be part of at The Ascent Leader.

It’s a unique, living room style set of gatherings where you’ll have some really transparent conversations on the sensitive nature of leadership succession. This next co-hort will be three days in Palm Desert, California, and features Kenton and Laurie Beshore, long time senior pastor of Mariners Church. You will get personal mentorship from Kenton and Laurie and advice from high level peers. I highly recommend it.

Spots are limited, so apply now at


One of the things that’s happened in this crisis is that so many people, almost every organization’s budget, has been blown up. And what do you do if you’re a church and your whole giving plan is off? Our friends at Generis have a brand new resource called Your Budget Just Blew Up…Now What? In this eBook, Generis Principal, Jim Sheppard shares some very practical advice on how to strengthen your church right now to weather the current storm and actually thrive in the months ahead.

Generis is making this new resource available exclusively to Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast listeners before they release it to everyone else. And, there’s a bonus chapter just for you. They’re also providing a support hotline during this time. They’ve got you completely covered.

Check out Your 2020 Budget Just Blew Up…Now What?, and get a free bonus chapter by going to


Text CRISIS to 33777 to get access to Carey’s How to Lead Through Crisis online course

Managing Leadership Anxiety: Yours and Theirs by Steve Cuss

A Failure of Nerve by Edwin H. Friedman

Steve Cuss’ Life Giving List

Managing Leadership Anxiety: Yours and Theirs Podcast

Avoid This Big Mistake: Stepping Back into the Past When You Step Back into Your Building by Carey Nieuwhof


1. Anxiety can be managed when you identify the “chronic need” fueling it

Chronic anxiety shows up when you don’t get what you think you need. For Steve, he has a “chronic need” to please strangers. This created a problem for him as a chaplain, as he was torn between pleasing the medical staff who needed him to work fast and pleasing the grieving family members who simply needed time.

Steve has learned to manage these moments of anxiety by “taking his own pulse before helping others” and becoming vulnerable by showing his humanness to the people he is trying to please. When he does this, he is accepting that he doesn’t actually need them to like him for him to survive and do his job.

2. If you want to stop the spread of anxiety, what you say is less important than how you say it

Anxiety spreads in a similar way to a virus. It’s invisible, spreads rapidly from person to person, and affects everyone differently. As a leader, it’s your job to make sure your team isn’t “transmitting” anxiety to each other in staff meetings, the office, or during private conversations.

You can ensure this by paying more attention to the “process” or the way people talk rather than the “content” of what they are actually saying. Steve explained that you, as the leader, can decrease the anxiety in the room by saying things in a way that doesn’t spread anxiety. Lead with clarity, confidence and understanding, and your team will be less anxious.

3. Audit your motivations in this crisis

You may have noticed that once this crisis hit, your inbox blew up with free and reduced price offerings from every organization who had your email. A lot of that is good, because it is helping the world in a dark time. But, Steve predicts that a lot of the motivation behind those free offers is a leader’s need to respond to their own anxiety about the crisis.

A leader’s initial instinct of pivoting is really good in this crazy time. But you’re in danger if you let a habit of anxiety-driven decision-making take over your life. When you begin to feel yourself become driven by your anxiety, name it. When you name those motivations, you become more self-aware, and that heightened self-awareness will increase your productivity.

Quotes from Episode 337

Anxiety spreads the way a virus spreads. It's highly contagious, and the only antidote is a leader who is able to walk into an anxious situation with calm presence. @stevecusswords Click To Tweet

Chronic anxiety shows up when you don't get what you think you need that you don't really need. @stevecusswords Click To Tweet

Most leaders are prone to action, so when we're anxious, we act more. @stevecusswords Click To Tweet

Ambiguity is always a source of anxiety. And for most type A leaders, not knowing what to do, particularly if people are asking you to do something, you're going to be more anxious. @stevecusswords Click To Tweet

All leadership is some form of vulnerable experience. @stevecusswords Click To Tweet

Anxiety is always contagious in any group. And the most anxious person in the room has the most power. @stevecusswords Click To Tweet

A true non-anxious presence is the ability and the skill to not let others' anxiety and affect you. @stevecusswords Click To Tweet

we can easily be in the grip of chronic anxiety or we can be in the grip of the unconditional love of God. It is very difficult to be in the grip of both. @stevecusswords Click To Tweet

The antidote to grief is radical acceptance. @stevecusswords Click To Tweet

Crisis is a cradle for innovation and the future belongs to innovators. @cnieuwhof Click To Tweet

The future almost always belongs to agile leaders who adopt and change. @cnieuwhof Click To Tweet

In an uncertain world, online is a lifeline and agility is a superpower. @cnieuwhof Click To Tweet

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The world is experiencing a series of unprecedented challenges, and you’re leading in the midst of it all.

I’ve got a brand new online, on-demand course, called How to Lead Through Crisisthat can help you lead your team, your church and yourself through the massive disruption.

The course is the gift from me and my team to you and leaders everywhere. In light of everything that’s going on, we decided to make it available 100% free.

Inside How to Lead Through Crisis, you’ll learn how to:

  • Cultivate a non-anxious presence that inspires confidence and trust.
  • Care for yourself so the crisis doesn’t break you.
  • Master the art of fast-paced, clear decision making.
  • Gather and interpret the most reliable data that will advance your mission
  • Advance digitally to scale past physical barriers and grow your outreach.
  • Lead your team and congregation remotely

While no one has all the answers in a crisis this big, in the course, I share the mindsets, habits, tools and strategies that I believe will help you lead through crisis to get you and the people you lead to a new (and better) future.

You can enroll and get instant access for you and your team here.

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Thank you for being so awesome.


Sean Morgan shares crisis leadership insights he gained from serving in the military in the Middle East and combines them with insights he’s learned from working with high capacity leaders in growing churches to give advice on leading through unpredictability, crisis and offer thoughts on what the new normal for churches and culture will look like.

Subscribe for free now so you won’t miss Episode 338.

CNLP 337: Steve Cuss on Managing Leadership Anxiety, Spotting Unlikely Signs of Stress in Yourself, and How to Tame Your Fears in a Crisis

1 Comment

  1. Mark on April 30, 2020 at 7:48 am

    You, as a leader, do not/will not know what is being discussed between your subordinates behind closed doors. They will likely never tell you, but they will try to get a sense of if their suspicions are correct from whatever you say, the way you act, and from reading between the lines of your emails. You need to provide enough information and be willing to (semi-) honestly answer questions. This gets into a gray area of how much information can be omitted before what is said is an out-right lie. Now, what often happens is that the leader’s superiors have told him/her something that will affect them but they don’t want it released yet. Thus, the leader has to keep that information quiet and answer questions without revealing what was to not be mentioned. This causes anxiety since people can suspect you are carefully formulating a response while holding back information. Sometimes it would help in this case OR you would be directed to read a prepared statement and answer no questions. For some who will/must presume the worst case for self-preservation, they will have already started running through their list of contacts to reach out to about opportunities before you can finish your speech. Thus, the creation/perpetuation of anxiety has already led to a collapse of the team and immediate distrust.

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