One source of leadership anxiety is a phantom strike. This is anytime one person takes a shot at you, but they are carrying a secret hidden army with them. It is any variation of “me and a bunch of people who aren’t here and who I won’t name all think there is something wrong with you.” 

Ah, the phantom strike. It is indeed a menace. 

Phantom strikes hurt because they catch you when your defense is down, you never see the extra firepower coming. They also hurt because you can’t face your accusers square on and now your internal triggers are at work. Is the whole organization talking about me? Are the people who are kind to my face stabbing me in the back? How many people and how strongly do they feel about this? Since you don’t have access to any of this information your mind fills in the gaps, usually to a pathological level, making something potentially much bigger than it really is.  

People who have strong personalities but don’t have emotional maturity to communicate directly are most prone to phantom strikes. They speak boldly against someone and interpret people’s silence as agreement and then co-opt it into a mob. If you’ve ever received criticism that hurt more than usual it might be because you received a phantom strike. 

Nancy Ortberg talks with great wisdom about how to handle a Phantom Strike when she was a guest on in Season 1, Episode 7 of the podcast. You can listen to it here.

I also cover phantom strikes in more detail in chapter 5 of my upcoming book. The chapter covers ‘Sources of Relational Anxiety.” You can preorder the book here Or if you would like a sample chapter now, click here, scroll down and submit your email address and I’ll send you a download.