It was a trip we had promised the kids for a while and finally we were here making our way around Disneyland. I am sitting on yet another roller coaster and can honestly say the overriding emotion is not one of excitement but fear. Fear grips me in anticipation of what this ride is about to do to me. Fear in this context is fairly benign. As a leader though, fear can be a real distraction to effective leadership. It will undermine your influence, cause you to make bad decisions and make your focus more “me” than “we.”
There are 2 ways in which fear affects the culture and environment you want to create as a leader. Internally and externally. Internally fears can manifest as thinking which causes you to doubt your own abilities. These kinds of doubts can arise at the most inopportune times which I would characterise as limiting beliefs. More people in leadership suffer from this kind of self-doubt than you realise.
“Leadership involves the heavy burden of responsibility, and the fear of getting it wrong can paralyze a leader.” John Maxwell
This kind of fear comes from a good place – wanting to do things well. This kind of fear if managed well is a reminder to you to have confidence in your strengths and abilities and the strengths and abilities of your team.
The other type of fear again finds its foundation in your insecurities. It manifests outwardly as you feel threatened by others you perceive to be after your role or your desire to control people around you so that you can protect yourself. The culture created by this becomes toxic, the people you lead will not give their best in this environment for fear of what your reaction will be.
Fears are a reality. However, as leaders you must be aware of how they affect you and your team and learn how to manage them.
“You may create short-term focus by using fear. And that may work for a couple of hours or a couple of days, maybe for a couple of years. In the short term it may work, but there’s no way that fear leads to any sustainable result in the long run.” Frank Krings
Your influence as a leader when you use fear and threat to motivate people, diminishes the moment you walk out the room.
When fear dominates in your team, you will likely find a blame culture, which stifles creativity and the very contributions you need from others which will help realise the potential of your team.
Fear wherever it comes from distracts us from clear thinking and wise decision making. When fear is in the room our thoughts are not about other people involved, they become only about what is happening to you.
There is another way.
A Different Way
You need to recognise how fear is affecting you, get the help you need if necessary and change your focus to an outward one. Focusing on your team and their needs first. Asking the question how can I add value today?
Successful leaders know that understanding their strengths and the strengths of those in their team will build a more creative environment where together everyone wins.
John Hope Bryant quotes in “Love Leadership,” about a Gallup survey of more than 10 million people over a decade on the topic of employee engagement:
“In contrast, Gallup has found that people who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.”
Taking the time to discover, explore and understand your team members strengths points to a huge gain in engagement with the work they are doing. It may mean moving people around so that they can better use their strengths, but it leads to a more effective team because you as leader have taken the time to understand them.
It is challenging when fears rise within you. At the point of fear, changing focus allows us to recognise the danger of fear driven decision making and empowers us to choose to act out of care or love.
“When you trust your own abilities and those of the people around you, you overcome fear. And when the people you lead trust themselves and you – that you have their best interests at heart and are authentic – is when you and they will achieve the most.” Phil Dourado
Photo by Yan Krukov