Management They're in the room right now with you

The Worry Police

The Worry Police worry.

During their career, the Worry Police were rewarded amply for their worrying, so they believe it’s their move. It makes them feel important. Worrying.

The Worry Police have real power; they are the police. This power was granted to them because sometimes, preparing for imminent disaster is the correct strategy. An averted disaster is worth celebrating, but someone must tell the Worry Police that worrying is not the only means of disaster prevention. I just did.

The Worry Police don’t build trust. Because they are certain something is fundamentally broken with this process, project, or person. They have erroneously pre-judged on the barest of facts or straight-up rumors. They will continue interrogating until fundamental brokenness is proven or… manufactured. I know, right?

The Worry Police might sound engaged with their questions, but they aren’t. They’re worried. They believe this continued incessant worry will somehow miraculously guide this project in the correct direction, and sometimes they’ll get lucky. It’s maddening.

The Worry Police aren’t curious; they are concerned. Curious means asking hard and thought-provoking questions. Concerned mean asking questions to alarm everyone, “I have concerns about this effort.” Curious rewards with discovery. Concerns amplify fears and create excuses.

The Worry Police don’t have hope because they haven’t been rewarded for hope, for optimism. The Worry Police can’t see potential or opportunity because this requires unclenching the worry muscles, taking a deep breath, and letting the air of possibility into their lungs.

The Worry Police don’t care much for data or facts because such truths are diametrically opposed to their goal of finding subjective wrongness. When confronted with this reality, their favorite knee-jerk response is, “But, what about…?” Your failure to know about this relevant but trivial other thing is a clear sign your fact-based argument is deeply flawed.

The Worry Police are predisposed to believe you’ve done it wrong. You haven’t. The Worry Police don’t build; they disassemble, believing it’s how to build best. When they are outranked, they get quiet. Isn’t that interesting?

The Worry Police exist for a reason you need to understand. They were granted power because the perception was they added value. There is a cultural reason they exist at your company.

The Worry Police, you might infer, aptly describes a specific job, but the Worry Police is neither a job nor a role, but a learned attitude. The Worry Police might read like a gross exaggeration, but they’re not. They’re in the room right now with you. Worrying.


I am describing the Worry Police harshly — perhaps too harshly — because I frequently have front-row seats for their theatre. More importantly, I am frequently accountable for unpacking their machinations and translating them into action while simultaneously cleaning up their wake of fear and confusion.

To be fair, the use of the mindset is an elevated “something-is-on-fire” state rather than a default state. To be clear, I write about humans colorfully because doing so engages the reader. To be blunt, I am confident the Worry Police are doing more damage than good. And to be honest, I know the Worry Police because I’ve been them. So far, this article reads like a piece the Worry Police would write.

Interested in how to contend with the Worry Police? Good.

Flip the coin

Don’t worry.

Leaders have real power, not because they’re the police, but because they understand how to build trust. They don’t pre-judge. They build their judgment with the people who understand the problem and have defensible opinions.

Leaders sound like they know what they’re talking about because they’ve taken the time to understand the situation entirely. They read the room; they communicate clearly and consistently to their audience. Their context has been carefully constructed by asking penetrating questions from the humans who most understand the situation.

Leaders are intensely curious. Yes, they are wondering what is happening right now, but they also wonder what contributing factors got us here in the first place. Leaders step back, way back, and they find non-obvious critical root causes. This curiosity creates shared understanding and long-term purpose.

Leaders hope. Leaders are optimistic. They do this because they believe in humans even when we are at our worst.

Leaders care for data and facts, but they also care deeply about the informed subjective. Leaders know each human’s experience — subjective or objective — is valuable information; it’s another piece of an infinite puzzle worth solving.

Leaders change their opinions, their strategies, and their agenda. They do this visibly and often by stating, “I was wrong,” in front of everyone.

Leaders help you grow, and they help you build. They also know when to stop, reflect, breathe deeply, and consider how to proceed in an informed fashion.

Leaders, you might infer, aptly describe a specific job, but leadership is a mindset. Leadership comes from everywhere. Leaders exist throughout your team, and they show up not because they have to but because they know it’s the right thing to do.

Leaders are influential humans, who build trust, speak with informed experience, and chase potential until they are breathless.

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2 Responses

  1. Erik Brown 1 year ago

    Perhaps the bigger question is what kind of culture creates the Worry Police, and how do you fix it or, even better, avoid that outcome in the first place?