Ask anyone in New Orleans, LA or Gulfport, MS about fear and they will give you an ear full. It was one year ago this month that fear stared me in the face. That fear was also a mammoth hurricane packing over 100 mph winds and was projected to hit the city where my family lives in Florida. Three weeks later, just after getting used to having electricity again, another fear came knocking. This fear was another hurricane, tracking the same path as the previous one. However, this storm was bigger and much more powerful. The fear of the unknown as affecting us all.
Fear. We have all experienced it, and to some degree are controlled by it. How do I know this about you? Think back to when you were a kid. At some point, you probably didn’t like to go in dark rooms or walk down dark streets where scary sounds seemed to come with every step. The feeling you felt then will cause you to reach for the light switch today. Or how about when you asked that special person out on a date and he or she all but laughed in your face and said, “Not on your life.”
Fear. What is it? Some basic definitions could be reverence or being afraid. But the type of fear that this article is referring to is the fear of discomfort or pain. Most of us will avoid pain at all costs.
What does this have to do with leadership? Good question. Your past experiences, both good and bad, will determine the way you lead. In my 20+ years of leadership experience, I have found that there are at least four common fears that affect even the most seasoned leader. More than likely, at least one of these fears affects you each and every time you relate to a person on a leadership level.
Before you read these fears, please prepare your mind to read them openly and honestly. This article is not meant to delve deeply into the psychology of each fear, but to share how they influence you as a leader. The fears I see most often in the lives of leaders are:
- Rejection. I have never met a person that likes to be rejected. Leaders that have had bad experiences with rejection will guard themselves against being rejected. Most often I see this like the turtle syndrome. The leader is afraid to stick his head out of the shell and take a risk, develop a new program, hire a new employee, or ask someone to take on a certain task. As a leader, you have to realize that there are risks involved, and those risks come with rejection. Having an idea rejected is a hard thing to experience, especially if this is one of your fears. As a leader, you must stop, look at your options, decide on what to do, and then take action.
- Loss of control. This fear is often seen in powerful personality types. This is not to say that the leader is a control freak, but control is a “comfort zone” to this person. The fear of losing control is displayed in a leadership style often called “micromanagement.” In other words, the leader is afraid to delegate responsibilities because if things get out of control he will not be able to take corrective action fast enough. What you must realize is that you are in control of very little. Life is basically out of your control. Managing people with a strong, controlling hand will not allow them to take on new problems nor will it challenge them to make progress in areas where they have never been before.
- Employee dependence. We all depend on people, from our families to our doctors, to the garbage collectors that pick up our trash on a regular basis. Employee dependence is a fear that is much deeper than simply depending on someone. The fear comes each day when the leader senses that something may be wrong with his “key” person. The leader then begins to wonder about the loyalty of this person. The leader often begins to ask mental questions like, “What if this person quits? How would I make it without him? What can I do to make sure she is happy in her job? What will my boss do if this person goes over my head with a problem?” On and on the questions go. The grip of this fear is strong but must be eliminated. As the old saying says, “If you hold on too tight, it will slip through your fingers.”
- Financial challenges. Take a day this week and go to your local bookstore and count how many books are written on financial matters. You will probably find that there are more books on this one subject than any other. Leaders are always facing challenges, but financial fears have a way of gripping like no other. New programs or ventures take the capital. Employees needed to expand and grow increases the salary budget. Additional equipment to increase overall efficiency requires funds to be spent. The strength of financial fears often causes the leader to begin accepting the status quo; and will often cause the leader to give up on his dreams.
These are four fears that I often see in leaders. I encourage you to plan some time in your schedule this week and think through this. If you find that one, or more, of these fears, have a grip on your life then allow your mind to reveal the root cause. Finding the root cause today will begin a healing process that will result in you being a better leader tomorrow.