Gut churning scary. Keep you up at night scary. Twist your neck into knots and cross your eyes scary.
There are things in our work lives that are more frightening than any horror movie, any roller coaster, any great height, or any big fish that’s all teeth. While work scares don’t make us squeal like 10-year-olds, they consume more of our time, energy, and emotions than all of these “real” fears combined. These are the insidious fears that lurk around every cubicle, every production line, every retail counter: Will I fail? Will they like me? Will they find out I really don’t know what I am doing? Will I lose my job? Will they respect me? Will I ever reach my goals?
As leaders, of course we experience these fears. Perhaps worse, others feel them as well. Low level anxiety can creep through our workplaces, slowly undermining trust, confidence and performance. In a fear driven workplace, you can see the telltale signs: rising turnover, falling productivity, a lack of innovation, increasing lost time, emotional outbursts, negativity and a lack of joy. When we are afraid we cling to what we have, keep our heads down and try to stay safe. In these conditions, it is difficult to focus on getting the job done or developing new ideas.
In a courageous workplace, fear still exists—as many writers have pointed out, bravery is not the absence of fear, it’s taking action in spite of it. In courageous workplaces, leaders talk about fear. They talk about insecurities. They share the brutal facts. Yet they are still confident and still positive; they still take action. They don’t deny fears exist. They acknowledge them, not wallow in them, and move on! The best leaders try to understand the source of anxiety, the source of our fears, and do something about them.
If you are leading a team, do a quick fear check: Are there signs of anxiety that we are missing? Are we ignoring something we are afraid of? Are we paralyzed because of insecurity or doubt?
And if you do see the signs of fear, what will you do to acknowledge it, deal with it, then move on?