Wear and Tear
I don’t mind a few scratches on my car.
It’s silly to take something weighing 1/2 a ton or more, hurl it along highways at 75 mph (120 kph) just feet away from hundreds of others doing the same thing, throw in a handful of gravel, and expect it to remain in perfect condition.
If we’re scared of our car getting scratched, we’ll never leave the garage.
The only way to keep a car in pristine ‘showroom’ condition, is to leave it there.
Our Leadership Showroom
Healthy human beings experience fear. It’s a part of the gig.
If you’re leading, you’ll have more than a few moments of anxiety and fear as you face unexpected problems and take risks to move your team forward.
It’s natural and normal to have these fears.
But if you don’t learn how to manage the fears that come with leadership, you stay in “the showroom”.
Unmanaged fear incapacitates you and leads to a range of leadership mistakes.
What makes these mistakes more dangerous is that when we’re scared we often don’t realize what we’re doing. They seem rationale at the time.
1. You avoid dealing with the very thing that needs attention.
You know that unease that creeps up and prompts you to procrastinate or avoid doing something? Listen to it! But instead of doing what it says (avoiding the problem), use it as a signal flare – the thing you feel like avoiding is exactly what should have your full attention. Dive in and get it done.
2. You lose credibility.
Even if you don’t tell them what’s going on, your team will figure it out. While you are paralyzed with fear, your leadership credibility slowly erodes.
3. You feel like you’re all alone.
When you’re scared, you forget your team. This one is particularly brutal because it cuts you off from one of your greatest strengths. Your team is smart and working together you can get it done…but not if fear isolates you.
4. You react and create chaos.
Have you ever had a squirrel get inside your house? They are scared and panicked. They over-react to every little noise or motion, scampering back and forth, climbing up the walls, knocking over everything. It’s chaos!
When we get scared, we can do the same thing and leave our teams frustrated and confused about their own priorities and expectations.
5. You demotivate others.
Fear only motivates for a little while. When our teams are confused and we’re reactive, it sucks the energy out of them.
6. You give up your ability to create the future.
When we’re acting out of fear, we aren’t working toward a positive vision of the future. We’re just trying to avoid problems.
7. You clamp down on information.
I don’t know who said it, but a quote that I’ve found true over the years is: “In the absence of information, people will jump to the most pathological conclusion possible.”
And yet, when we’re operating from fear, we often stop the flow of information (because we worried about communicating the wrong thing or aren’t sure who we can trust). This feeds into the isolation that cuts us off from the very people that can most help.
8. You withdraw or lash out.
This behavior goes by many names. You’ve probably heard it called our flight or fight response. Kerry Patterson calls it our tendency to silence or violence.
Whatever you call it, I’m sure you know it: when we’re scared we protect ourselves – either through entombing ourselves in reinforced concrete bunkers or by launching on all out attack on others.
Whether we run and hide or go on the attack, it really cripples our leadership credibility.
9. You avoid risks and end personal growth.
When you’re worried about making mistakes, you don’t take risks. When you don’t take healthy risks, you stop learning new things…and you stop learning altogether. In leadership, if you’re not growing, you’re losing credibility.
10. You don’t apologize, own, and correct mistakes.
So when we do make a mistake, if we’re frightened of being seen as a failure, we won’t own up to it and apologize.
Of course, everyone already knows and so once again we fritter away our credibility.
11. You become a victim.
Sustained fear results in us giving up our ability to act. And that’s a the definition of a victim – “this happened and there’s nothing I can do”.
12. You inspire fear in others.
This one is really bad.
As leaders, we pass on who we are. Our team is learning from us. If we stay in fear-mode more, it won’t be long before our team starts acting the same way and now we’ve multiplied the mistakes on this list.
Reclaim Your Power
If more than one of those mistakes sound familiar, it’s time to reclaim your leadership!
1. Listen to your fear.
You’ll never get rid of it – fear is a normal emotion and we experience it for a reason.
What is it trying to telling you? What is it warning you about? Take some time to examine what’s going on and understand it. Just listening to yourself will help. Then you can begin addressing those things.
2. Connect with your team.
When we’re alone or isolated, things grow out of proportion. Reconnecting with your team will help you gain healthy perspective and engage many more minds in problem solving.
3. Give yourself power.
If fear leads to victimhood, one of the best antidotes is to re-empower yourself. Do this by asking two simple questions:
What are the results I want to achieve?
What can I do to accomplish those results?
4. Examine the actual consequences (not imagined)
Our minds can play tricks on us and grow imagined problems to epic proportions.
This is why doing #1 (listen to you fear) is important. What is it you’re scared of? What would actually happen if that came to pass? What would you do then?
If you can find people who have been in the same situations and learn what they did, that’s even better. The point is to reduce the imagined problem to real-life and know you can handle it.
5. Leave Room for Mistakes
When you’re planning, count on making some mistakes. Allow some margin of error and know where your error-limits really are.
Perfectionists and high achievers sometimes let fear paralyze them because they fear making a mistake. But even engineers sending a rocket into space know the margin of error within which they can operate.
Mistakes are a good thing. They mean you’re trying something new and stretching. Use them well – they’ve got so much to teach you if you’ll let them.
Like anything else, overcoming your leadership fears takes time and practice. In the future, situations that caused you two weeks of anxiety will only give you 2 hours of serious thought as you continue to practice.
7. Start small
People with extreme fear of snakes don’t overcome it by diving into a tank of snakes. They begin by reading about them, by spending time near them in a safe environment, and work up to handling them.
What is the easiest step you can take? Is it sharing your concerns with your team? Is it looking for someone who’s been in the same situation? Is it writing down the situation you need to address?
Take one step.
8. Get help
Sometimes we need help.
Get it! Don’t let your fear of being seen as weak or inadequate keep you from getting the help you need to be effective.
The best professional athletes in the world have private coaches and sports psychologists. If they can do that for what is essentially a game, aren’t you worth even more?
Whether it’s a coach or a good counselor – invest in yourself and get the help you need. If you’re wondering where to begin, I am available for leadership and management coaching.
“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”
Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper.
How to do manage your fears? I’d love to hear from you.
You Might Like:
- Looking for the Dry Places (video)
- How to Lead When You Can’t
- The Great Willpower Hoax
- 7 Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say
- Do You Really Want Things to Get Better?
David M. Dye
(Photo by Harned Saber)
Subscribe today or join the discussion at: www.trailblazeinc.com
David is President of Trailblaze, Inc and shares twenty years experience teaching, coaching, leading, and managing in youth service, education advocacy, city governance, and faith-based nonprofits. He enjoys partnering with people to change the world and helping others discover and realize their own potential.