This blog post is contributed by Dana Schwartz, a Leadership Strategist, Coach, and Facilitator with Leadership Innovations.
Search the web for “fear of failure” and you’ll find a multitude of links to articles – from inspirational quotes and simple ways to overcome it to neurological descriptions of the brain’s response to fear. As a Leadership Coach, I am intrigued to learn more about navigating behavioral responses to fear in professional work situations. My finding is that we can offer ourselves a better alternative — turning Fear…into Fearlessness.
I was struck by the idea in Josh Fitzwater’s article, “What Would You Do If You Knew You Couldn’t Fail?” that “the differences between those that achieve the extraordinary and those that do not is most typically in the expectations and the willingness to go as far as it takes between the two.” In other words, those that are relentless AND prepared to work through those moments of discomfort, difficulty, and sacrifice achieve greatness. However, for some who struggle with these fearful moments, the goal is still set, the hard work is endured, but somewhere along the way, they get caught up in the fear, causing a significant roadblock at work.
This concept of moving away from the fear and embracing fearlessness resonated with me. A number of years ago, I was hired as a Professional Development Trainer. After two years, I was promoted to the Training Manager, overseeing a team of my former peers. I wondered whether my former peers would trust and respect me as their new manager.
My fears made for a rough first month in this new role. My internal questions focused on: “Will I be able to maintain the strong connections we built as peers?”, “Will they have the confidence and trust in me?”, “How can I lead my former peers through THEIR fears so they perform to their potential?”. These were all tough questions for me as fear seemed to overtake my typical logical and experienced responses.
Have you heard the acronym for fear — F.E.A.R. False Evidence Appearing Real? People take on fearful thoughts and become convinced that they are factual and true. In the work setting, this may show up in an environment that is strictly goal based lacking collaboration, innovation or partnerships. A manager who leads by this fear could negate an opportunity to build the critical trust with direct reports. This will impact not only the relationships but the productivity level towards achieving the organizational goals. Our role as leaders is to build trust with others, empowering them to work toward accomplishing the team goals with our support, even when outcomes may not immediately meet the goals.
My initial fear of effectively leading my former co-workers was significantly lessened by being intentional-devoting the energy, skill and time to enhancing these relationships. One method I used was to rely on my strengths in active listening, openness to ideas, and coaching others as needed. In addition, my manager exhibited confidence in my capabilities. These actions resulted in me being able to move past that first month of fear into a future of fearlessness.
The opportunity lies within you as a leader. Will you succumb to the potential of False Evidence Appearing Real? Or will you turn the fear towards fearlessness and lead the way? As leaders, it’s up to us to set a culture and an environment that encourages our teams to work through the fears and potential for failures. With this approach, we will all come away with increased confidence, courage, knowledge, and a greater sense of accomplishment.
Who knows? By practicing these habits of leading ourselves and others from fear to fearlessness, it could be your next developed strength, bringing significant value to you and ultimately, your organization.