Leadership and The Ugly Four-Letter Word: Fear

Fear

We all have different ideas of what fear looks like.  Some people fear taking risks, others fear conflict or confrontation, and still others fear rejection by peers, just to name a few.

So what is fear?  

My Fear of Failure

Personally, I struggle with fear of failure.  I am a perfectionist by nature, as are many of us in the corporate world.  As children we are taught making mistakes equates to failure, and accumulated failure makes it impossible to become successful.

Further, failing can sometimes feel like a knock on who I am as a person-I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not driven enough, etc.  It has taken me many years to unlearn the lies I was fed as a child, however this fear still holds me captive from time to time.

“Everybody has their own Mt. Everest they were put on this earth to climb.” ~Hugh Macleod

The Four-Letter Word

The point is that we all have fear in our lives.  If we all face fear, though, why isn’t it more readily discussed in the workplace?

“Fear” is often viewed as an unmentionable four-letter word.

  • Uttering it is received with feelings of discomfort and disdain.
  • To admit fear is to accept defeat.
  • Society at large views fear as a sign of weakness.
  • We are expected to be big, bad, courageous trailblazers.
  • Overlooking the presence of fear, though, gives it power.
  • Inability to face our fears allows them to grow and fester until they paralyze us.

Thus, the first step to ridding oneself of fear is admitting that it exists.  From there, one can begin to understand the fear that holds him/her hostage and create a plan of action to confront and overcome that fear.

“The key to release, rest, and inner freedom is not the elimination of all external difficulties.  It is letting go of our pattern of reactions to those difficulties.” ~Hugh Prather

Facing Uncomfortable Circumstances

Freedom from fear does not involve changing or avoiding our circumstances.  Rather, freedom is found when we face our fear-invoking circumstances head on.  This confrontation helps to release us from our bondage to fear.

“The circumstances of our lives have as much power as we choose to give them.” ~David McNally

A Choice to Be Made

So, then, at the root of fear is a choice:

  • Do I allow my circumstances to define me? 

OR

  • Am I willing and able to overcome my circumstances?

In Maximum Leadership,John C. Maxwell poses the question, “Which emotion will [you] allow to be stronger?” (2012) Choosing faith over fear is a moment-by-moment decision.

  • Will I choose to face my fears or will I let myself be overcome by them?
  • Do I have faith enough in my abilities and belief in what I am pursuing to overcome my fears?

These questions, and others, are what define who we are as leaders and team members.

The Solution

So once we face fear, what is the next proactive step to keep it away?

Learning to trust.

In Oestreich and Ryan’s book, Driving Fear Out Of The Workplace, the authors discuss the benefits of creating a high-trust workplace environment.  The authors interviewed 260 people at 22 organizations about fear and how each workplace handles the fear they face.

In the book, “fear” is defined as “the belief that speaking up about on-the-job concerns may result in adverse repercussions.”  An overwhelming 70% labeled this situation as one that provokes anxiety.

Why does this matter?

The workplace can be full of change and uncertainty.  Fear affects us all as both individuals as well as a corporate body.

On Anxiety, Trust and Fear

Anxiety and fear in the workplace creates:

  • Insecurity in workers
  • Fear of honesty, vulnerability, and openness
  • Anger as a result of misunderstanding, miscommunication, and ego defense
  • Lower levels of creativity
  • Lack of concern for the company

Trust has the power to eliminate fear.

Trust creates an environment that fosters positive vulnerability among coworkers.

When trust is present, people:

  • do not fear they will be rejected as a result of speaking up
  • feel comfortable and are willing to take more risks
  • are willing to be more open and honest with coworkers and company leaders
  • push themselves further, knowing they will have the support of their coworkers/leaders
  • have greater commitment to work at hand and the company as a whole because the ability to trust at work creates loyalty to coworkers/the company itself

Anxiety inhibits, trust relaxes and releases. 

For more information on trust, check out my trust blog entry here.

Continuing On In Freedom From Fear

Over the course of the next four months we will be discussing different types of fears that inhibit growth for leaders and teams as well as the steps necessary to overcome these fears.

We will also be discussing Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team as it relates to overcoming fear in the workplace.  The five dysfunctions include:

  • Inattention to Results
  • Avoidance of Accountability
  • Lack of Commitment
  • Fear of Conflict
  • Absence of Trust

“Striving to create a functional, cohesive team is one of the few remaining competitive advantages available to any organization looking for a powerful point of differentiation.” ~Patrick Lencioni

My hope is these tools for overcoming fear will create more cohesive teams and more effective leadership within your company.  I hope you will join me in reading the upcoming blog focused on exploring the fear of conflict.

What fears in the workplace hold you captive? What tips do you have for dealing with these fears? Do you tend embrace fear or run from it? Do you believe trusting relationships can truly combat fear? Do you have another way of handling fear in your life/at the office?

**********

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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

——————–
Kristi Royse

Kristi Royse is CEO of KLR Consulting
She inspires success in leaders and teams with coaching and staff development

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2 Responses

  1. Great view of it, Kristi. Trust is very fragile in the workplace. The same is true for us at home. We have to be able to know that the people around us have our backs or else we’re going to have to continue to look behind us. If employees can trust that the organization is looking out for them, they’ll be equipped to reach their potential.

  2. I just finished blogging through Lencioni’s book. It is a powerful message for the church. This too is a good word, great post.

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