Episode 47: Leadership, Anxiety, and Family Systems, with Steve Cuss, author of Managing Leadership Anxiety

Over the course of more than twenty years of leading churches and ministries, I’ve learned that a lot of the challenges in leadership aren’t about the people—they are about what happens between the people. About our relationships. About our systems of relationships.

I’ve learned that one person’s anxiety can infect, not only a leadership team, but an entire church. And I’ve seen one person’s non-anxiety restore that same team to a state of calmness and reason.

In this episode, I’m speaking with Steve Cuss, the author of Managing Leadership Anxiety. It’s a fantastic conversation about the way anxiety can affect, not only ourselves, but all those around us. We also talk about something called family systems theory, which has to do with recognizing and managing the anxiety in a system of relationships—be it a family, a church, a business, a baseball team, or school.






  • Steve Cuss is the lead pastor at Discovery Christian Church in Denver, Colorado, and the author of Managing Leadership Anxiety.
  • Steve served as a hospital chaplain together with a student of Murray Bowen, who developed family systems theory, and had studied together with Edwin Friedman, who further developed family systems for congregations and organizations.
  • Acute anxiety is when you’re in actual danger. The danger is short-term, and then the danger passes.
  • Family systems focuses on chronic anxiety, which has to do with what happens next after you don’t get what you think you need.
  • Chronic anxiety is long-term. It is not an actual threat; it is a perceived threat.
  • “Mansplaining” is always an anxious response.
  • Laura Turner had shared on Steve’s podcast, Managing Leadership Anxiety, the idea of anxiety as a pet. It’s helpful to think of anxiety, not as a monster, but as a pet on a leash.
  • Chronic anxiety is like an abusive relationship. You may have gotten used to how it treats you, but it never treats you well.
  • It’s helpful to be mindful where your anxiety begins. Does it start in a spinning mind, a racing heart, or a tightening gut?
  • It can also be helpful to ask a friend, “What are two or three things that I think I need, but that I don’t actually need?”
  • Murray Bowen, founder of family systems theory, noticed that our problems aren’t just inside us, but between us.
  • The way we relate to each other also generates anxiety.
  • Steve offers a helpful analogy in which we carry around our anxiety in buckets. Sometimes someone dumps their bucket of anxiety into ours, leaving us with more anxiety than we can carry.
  • The most powerful person in the room is the most anxious person in the room—unless the room is being led by a non-anxious leader.
  • Edwin Friedman wrote Generation to Generation, which focuses on congregational leadership. He also wrote A Failure of Nerve, which looks at family systems in culture and society.
  • “Differentiation” is considered by Roberta Gilbert to be the cornerstone concept of family systems theory. It refers to your ability to notice when you’re being infected by someone else’s anxiety and how to stop your anxiety from infecting someone else.
  • Chronic anxiety is a sign that we’re depending on our anxiety, rather than depending on the cross of Jesus Christ.
  • Find out more about Steve and his book, Managing Leadership Anxiety, at www.stevecusswords.com.
  • Also, check out Steve’s podcast, Managing Leadership Anxiety.




Links to Amazon are affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through any of these links, I’ll receive a small commission–which will help pay for the Spiritual Life and Leadership podcast!  🙂

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