The Dark Side of Leadership: the Anxiety Trilogy

In a conversation with a friend, I was recently reflecting on the following three books:

1. Harlod Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence – a book about how poets suffer from anxiety induced by their relationships with their predecessors, and how some “strong” poets achieve greatness while most simply write derivative work.

2. Andy Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive – a book about how paranoia allows some leaders to respond to strategic inflection points in their industries, and thus survive major internal and external shocks.

3. Kashdan and Biswas-Diener’s The Upside of Your Dark Side – a book about how dark emotions such as anger, anxiety, guilt, and sadness can drive performance.

Taken together, they form sort of a trilogy on how harnessing anxiety (and similar dark emotions) can  lead to strong performance – and even genius.

Speaking from personal experience, I understand how dark emotions such as anxiety, need for risk taking, and status seeking can both lead to incredible breakthroughs and serious fuck-ups.

Whether it is Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Thomas Jefferson, or Elizabeth I – your heroes were always in a constant battle with their dark side; sometimes they won, sometimes they lost, and sometime they harnessed their dark side for the good of others.

As a leader, the tensions are multifold: rationalization and suppression are there as poles; contentment is there in fleeting blips; and anxiety, in waves low and high, might be the closet thing to consistency.

Good luck.

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