Leading Through Fear

Fear is a Liar

It happens even to the best and most experienced leader – fear.

Facing Your Fear

It may be a fear of the ‘Great Recession,’ a fear that your position or career is in jeopardy, a fear that you personal life is suffering or the fear that you may have chosen the wrong profession.  The fear may be on your mind every day or it may be hidden in your subconscious.

Whatever your fear is and wherever it may lie, if you’re a leader, you still need to present a picture of strength to the people you lead.

So – how do you do it?

“As fear is based on something that we think may happen in the future, it is clearly a mental process which tries to predict the future – in that sense, the reason of fear is a projection of our mind.View on Budhism

Leading through fear requires two basic things…

  1. Always presenting a strong and confident public persona
  2. Fully understanding, confronting, and moving past your fears.

Your Public Persona

Present a Strong and Confident Public Persona

ConfidenceAs a leader, you are looked at to provide direction, coaching, mentoring, vision, strategy, and many other things for your team.  For an inexperienced leader who is facing fear for the first time, providing the things your organization needs can be difficult or even impossible to accomplish some times.

Most young leaders who experience fear for the first time while leading either struggle with presenting a strong and confident persona and not feeling like they are lying to their team or revert to a controlling and almost dictatorial style of leadership.

What they don’t realize is that, internal struggles like those in option 1 can be paralyzing and cause them to be inefficient leaders and extreme measures like those in  option 2 can lead to them losing team members and possibly even their job.

Presenting a strong and confident persona while experience fear is neither lying nor being two-faced, it is in fact, a skill that every great leader must develop.  Great leaders aren’t the ones who avoid fear or never fear anything, they are the ones who feel fear, confront it, use it to push them to great decisions and pull their team through.

“Regardless of the route we choose, fear is a fact of life. Although many of us have been taught that fear is negative, fear can be a good emotion. It is like a warning signal to be aware, to be prepared. Managed effectively, fear can teach us to look out for ourselves and make decisions that are right for us.” Find a Mentor

When leading through fear, a leader must also avoid turning into a dictator and trying to control everything.  While this desire to control everything is a natural reaction to many fears, it can also lead to more conflicts and issues than it solves.  In short – while controlling things make us feel better, the feeling of being controlled by someone else is not a very good feeling for people around us.

Understand, Confront, Move Past Your Fears

First – determine if the fear is real or imagined.

This is sometimes difficult to accomplish – especially when it comes to a work situation.  For example, you hear about layoffs at the company where you work.  Your team hears the same rumors as you do and confronts you about them.  At the beginning, everyone is feeling the same fear – the fear of being laid off.  However, until you get conformation one way or another, you must present a confident persona to your team and give them the confidence they need to continue performing at a high level.

At this point, the fear of being laid off is technically real.

As time goes on, you are told by your direct manager that the layoff will not affect anyone in his/her group.  You hold meetings with your staff and let them know that you have been told that you’ve been told the layoffs will not affect them group.  As long as you have built trust within your group, they will believe you and their fear will subside.

More time passes and it’s announced that your division will be going through a re-organization and that, in a few weeks, you and your entire group will be working for another manager.  This is scheduled to happen after the layoffs are basically complete.

At this point, the fear of being laid off could be either real or imagined.

More time passes and the unfortunate happens, as the transition to the new group is in progress, someone is laid off.  This is bound to create tension in the group and leave people in a state of fear for their own jobs.  They also may begin to distrust management as the layoff for your group has become a reality.

Second – if the fear is real, confront in head on.

Now that the fear of someone in the group being laid off has become reality and that they group knows they may be next, a number of things must happen.

First, you must explain to the group why the layoff hit your group when you said it wouldn’t.  Everybody understands that things change. Everybody understands that business changes and sometimes deeper cuts are necessary.  Also, everybody understands if an organization is re-evaluated and found to be too heavy in one area or another.

The key here is to be open, honest and transparent.

Second, you must start to rebuild trust.  Maybe take the team out for lunch or host an offsite event.  Your team will need time away from the office in a non-threatening environment to voice their questions and concerns.  Possible even consider involving Human Resources or another third-party to ensure all fears, concerns, questions, and so forth come to light.

Only by acknowledging and confronting our fears can we move on.

So what is your experience with leading through fear? Do you have challenges at your organization when frightening news is rifling through your team’s psychological network? What do you do to calm fears and bring people down a calmer path? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Chris M. Sprague
Chris Sprague is a Visionary Servant Leader
He strives to bring out the best in everyone
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Image Sources: bcmlife.net