Blankity-Blank-Blank Nerves!!


Nerves! Those blankity-blank-blank nerves!

Yes, you heard me.  Nerves.  Those darn nerves!  Always around, never a dull moment: “nerves” have gotten the best of us and promoted the worst of us.  Leadership isn’t leadership without nerves, is it.

I have a close relationship with nerves.  My nerves, other people’s nerves, high nerves, low nerves… the kind of nerves you see when someone cuts you off in morning traffic, and the kind of nerves you see when a paramedic performs CPR.  Nerves.  So important, so underestimated… always forgotten until a crisis.

“Why this word for this blog?” you might ask.

Nerves Maketh the Leader

Consider how nerves are involved in leaders:

  • Strong nerves
  • Weak nerves
  • Recognizing people with nerves for good or bad
  • Determining how to use the best nerves in the worst cases
  • Putting the worst nerves away during the best circumstances

As leaders, we must take heed of our nerves all the time. And this requires an enormous amount of discipline and selfawareness.  These two characteristics tend to be at the bottom of the “Top Ten” for daily leadership habits for the average leader. Conversely, these characteristics are somewhere toward the top when we have the time to study and focus on leadership best practices.

Yes, nerves, as painful and exhilarating as they may be in the moment, are that easy to forget.

On My Last Nerve

Each year from April 25th to April 27th, I reflect on a time in my career when I relied 100% on my nerves for two full days. This occurrence happened while facilitating a self-proclaimed “schizophrenic” and “slightly dysfunctional” executive team through a leadership program.

[Well, it was actually three full days of nerve management if I consider the amount of unnecessary coaching and talk-to’s I got from my direct manager about what to do and what not to do (making it worse: there tended to be more “what not to do’s”) leading up to the two days.  We’ve all been there.  Nerves.]

This time of reflection helps remind me how nerves are so much the part of everyday life for all types of leaders. Remembering things as simple (or should I say “as massively complex”) as nerves helps keeps my eyes open to how really complex leadership can be.

Remember When…

In the 80’s…

I remember that having nerve was equal to having courage.  “He has nerve—I like that.”  “She has a lot of nerve, she’ll go places.”  Ah, the 80s.  Such an interesting time for Organizational Culture.

In the 90’s…

I recall that having nerve was equal to having audacity.  “Have you ever seen so much nerve?” “Yeah, Chris won’t be going anywhere here.”  It was also a time when culture was starting to look at corporate culture, and with the institutionalization of the Internet and the Global Workforce, the 90’s were rich with opportunities to put your nerve away… or at least reel it in a little.

Too much could happen, after all, and we couldn’t retract emails quite as easily back then.

In fact, by the late 90s…

You had nerve if you called anyone out on anything, and by the early 2000s we saw Whistleblower protection and new SEC rules on ethics and compliance due to a few (a-hem) Enron situations.  The nerve!

And that brings us to today…

As leaders, knowing our nerves and how we manage them has never been tested so much as these days:

  • Our families are under strain due to economic and regular family stresses
    • As parents, do we think about our nerves?
  • Our companies are under strain due to economic and global stresses
    • As employees and/or executives, do we think about our nerves?
  • Our communities are under strain due to economic and social stresses
    • As civilians, do we think about our nerves?

The natural strains we feel as leaders impact our nerves—what can we do to get ahead of them?  How can we keep them in check?  What can we do to play it cool as needed or fire them up as appropriate?  Is it harder these days to manage and navigate our “nerves”?

Christa (Centola) Dhimo is President & Founder, via Best Practices
She helps clients by aligning human capital performance with business results


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L2L Contributing Author