Fear can be perhaps the most powerful emotion we have in our human arsenal. But rarely is it used in a productive way, and even more rarely is it used for good.
And therein lies part of the problem with fear when in a leadership position. When you have a chance to make change and disrupt things in a more positive direction, yet have fear about what to do and whether it will work out, you will find yourself paralyzed as a leader, which leaves your team paralyzed and ultimately will drive down morale.
You have to confront the fear, and part of confronting is acknowledging the fear when and where it exists and be able to face it down like a bully – punch it right in the nose, in other words.
Sometimes, though, when you are in the middle of the fear, you might have trouble recognizing what it looks like. So let us help you out. As part of a series of posts recapping a recent article in Professional Safety magazine about this topic (the first post is here), David Dye discusses 11 different ways that fear manifests itself in leadership. Could you take a step back and see if you have experienced any of these, or know someone who has? Recognizing these wil give you permission to do something about them, rather than be fearful of the fear.
Do you find yourself confronted with an issue, and you find yourself looking for rationalizations to put it off for another day, always trying to find something else “more important”? The problem that is right in front of you is the problem that is right in front of you. Don’t push it aside; take it on without delay. It is at the front of the line for a reason. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of setting the priorities; sometimes they are set for you.
This can be just as powerful as the fear itself. In a leadership position, it might be human nature to not “let them see you sweat” when it comes to your team. But don’t think for a second that you can cover up the fear; it always knows something is up. When they know something is wrong and you’re not telling them, your credibility with them drops. Maybe not quickly, but it will be steady.
If you don’t tell your team what is going on about your fear, you tend to isolate yourself from the rest of the team, which then makes you feel like it’s only you who can take this on. But even if you don’t tell your team but it knows what is happening and could help you, it likely won’t if you don’t ask or don’t get the team involved in the problem. And your team is what makes you look good, so why not utilize that resource? Why cut it off?
Sometimes, when people get scared, they tend to cause chaos – they are not organized, they jump from priority to priority, thinking that there is always a fire to put out, and then that may mean the leader gives the team conflicting or contradictory instructions, which then leaves the team confused, lost, frustrated … and chaotic.
We all know that fear can be a motivator – for a short time. However, if fear is not handled properly – like in point number 4 above, where there is chaos and panic – then the energy spent on confusion and panic will deplete the energy that should go toward actually addressing the issue. And that then deflates everyone.
Are you usually the one who shows the team your vision for the future, and gets everyone focused on that same goal? But are there times when you have trouble seeing that same vision clearly, because you become so focused on one step at a time that you don’t create more problems, and suddenly you don’t want to “look too far ahead”? Yeah, the fear monster has gripped you.
Part of fighting fear is getting your team to cooperate. But your team won’t cooperate if you decide to restrict the dissemination of information. “Circling the wagons” might seem like a unifying mantra, but if that means that only those you “trust” will ever really know anything, then you will be in a tough spot all the time. Information eases the fear.
Some people can act like they are trapped in a corner when they are gripped by fear, which means that person could withdraw away from his or her team or others, and maybe even lash out defensively for no actual reason.
This is not in the good way of “stunt,” where you take chances. This is the opposite, where you get conservative, take no risks at all (even if one is actually good for you), and thus you stop learning anything new or having a willingness to learn anything new. You lean solely on what you already know and take no steps forward in your personal or professional growth. When you stop growing, you tend to lose respect or credibility among your team members.
Something goes wrong, and you might be afraid of failing to be “perfect,” so you may not ownup to the mistake. Even if you don’t take responsibility and apologize for it, your team will know it was your mistake, and you not taking responsibility will affect your team’s trust in you, and your credibility with them.
This is the spread of fear like a cancer. Maybe you are someone who consistently operates in fear, and eventually that fear (even if there is no real justification for it) will eventually be transferred onto your team members, and they will start to act fearful in their own way. This is negative leadership (or non-leadership), when you take your fear and give it to others, which ultimately magnifies and multiplies the problems instead of mitigating them.
Now that you see yourself somewhere in here, next we will look at eight ways in which you can reclaim that power that you willingly gave up to the fear. As easy as it might be to give into the fear, it’s not always easy to take that power back. It can be done, but it takes resolve on your part. Are you resolute?