Fear. It can be such an unwelcome companion. While often not life or death, the stakes can resemble wild success or utter failure in the business world, and that fact alone can be paralyzing. Making difficult decisions, taking risks, predicting the market, starting a new business, or even reinvigorating an existing business to increase yield, can all induce fear in us that is second to none.
They didn’t title that movie from the 80’s Risky Business for no reason. Business is a gamble, even in its most calculated form.
In most cases, businesses affect more than just ourselves. We might have other people’s income on the line, which affects families. We might also have employees’ health and wellness to consider, their ability to take vacations and find time to be with their loved ones, earn bonuses and rewards, and make the kind of living that their dreams are made of.
Add it all up, and this leadership responsibility we’ve taken on starts feeling a lot like pressure. We can’t allow ourselves to be paralyzed by pressure. As a leader, you must work through paralysis to lead others with courage and integrity.
What I remember about the IPO of Primerica was that we came awfully close to it on a couple of occasions. Then our efforts *poofed,* absolutely evaporated due to unforeseen circumstances —like being bought out by another company or the collapse of the entire banking system. We were really winning…until we weren’t.
While I would typically pick myself up and dust myself off, ready to start all over again from scratch, I would still sometimes feel that fear creeping in, trying to get me to buy into what it was telling me. “All your hard work will go to waste again, John. This is a fruitless effort, Addison. What are you working so hard for if it all keeps falling apart? The banks aren’t going to recover, and Primerica won’t exist.” All real possibilities, but not even probabilities; make no mistake, the difference is real.
Like weeds in a garden, I needed to remain vigilant for fearful thoughts to enter. I needed to ensure that they weren’t being allowed to overtake the bountiful veggies that I had carefully and thoughtfully cultivated in a season when hope seemingly sprang eternal. I had to repeatedly address my stinking thinking and make sure it wasn’t heading me in the direction of my dreams shrinking. It required dedication to success and courage, but it was well worth the effort.
The Weathervane and the Lighthouse
If you have heard me give a keynote speech or read my book, Real Leadership, you have undoubtedly heard me talk about the difference between being a lighthouse and a weathervane. A weathervane changes direction constantly with the storm. The influence the storm has over it is endless. The lighthouse, however, holds fast and strong and shines its light for others to follow even while the storm is raging all around.
When we feel fearful or anxiety-ridden about something coming up, that is the time to start preparing an answer for that fear. I have found that the wisest decision is an educated decision in business and leadership positions. My response to fear is often doing research, asking good questions, talking to others who have been down that road, and reflecting on my past experiences to ensure I am not perpetuating a pattern that I might not be able to recognize. If I need to educate myself further to make a good decision, by gosh and by golly, I will either do that or consult with someone who is already a master in that field whose opinion I can trust, even if it might differ from my own.
With that conscious repetition of actions, I created a ritual around fear that allowed me to be able to respond rather than react. I didn’t let fear cause me to spontaneously turn into a weathervane, changing course just to avoid pressure and possible adverse outcomes. I knew that if I remained calm, let each decision take up the appropriate amount of time and space that is needed instead of rushing, and kept the focus on learning from and with others, the storm was far less likely to uproot me altogether.
Education as a Remedy for Fear
If our fear can be easily overcome by confidence cultivated through gaining new knowledge, don’t ever stop learning. It’s that simple. If our dreams are grinding to a halt because we don’t feel competent enough in a world full of MBAs, then it might be high time to look into advancing our education to prepare and create the environment for our success.
There’s empowerment in making a plan to overcome our fears by educating ourselves. Educating ourselves means that it’s more likely that educated opinions and decisions will come from us, which are always better for business. If we have to become more educated to handle better how to lead with confidence and enthusiasm, then the obvious action is to sign up for some classes to meet our own needs. Then, we can effectively grow into the leader we were destined to become.
Faith or Fear?
I have heard people say fear is the absence of faith. I decided to take a long, hard look at this because I, too, believed it for a time. What I found upon examining my experience didn’t entirely coincide. I observed that I could still act in faith despite fear.
Telling fear to take a long walk off a short pier has never really been something I could do. Trying to order my fearful thoughts to stop came from the part of me that was afraid to be afraid. So that didn’t work, but bringing some mindfulness into the situation did work.
I could watch the fear come and begin to grow. I could listen to it tell me all sorts of things, just as it did when I was working on the IPO. But I didn’t have to believe what it was telling me. The pruning process of fearful thoughts doesn’t necessarily mean trying to obliterate them; it means putting them in their place, in the garbage, next to all the rest of the bindweed that strangles our efforts to create lively, beautiful things in the world.
Off You Go
While teaching my boys to ride a bike, whenever one of them would take a tumble and come running, I would first make sure that they were ok. But then, after the tears stopped, I would dust them off, turn them around and pat them on the back as I said, “off you go to try again.” Fear is just one of those things that we have to dust ourselves off and walk away from. Try again. Keep going. Don’t let fear keep you from flying.
Even if fear has knocked the daylights out of us, we stand a much better chance at successfully getting back up and trying again when we:
- learn to accept our fear as it is
- not allow our fear to make us behave impulsively
- recognize that we don’t have to agree with what our fear is telling us
- make a plan to help ourselves grow (even through education) and overcome any aspects that are blocking us
- solicit help from those who have been there and done that
So, dry those tears. The only thing to fear is fear itself. Take a deep breath. And off you go to try again!
See? I knew you wouldn’t let fear stop you.
If it’s evident that your organization is struggling due to fear and lack of guidance on how to navigate it successfully, book me as your next keynote speaker, and I can show you and your team how to turn your fear into fuel.
See you at the top,