It’s no secret that fear holds people back. We all know people who are experts in their field but flounder when speaking on stage, red-hot salespeople who are unstoppable until it’s time to close the deal, and leaders who consistently feel like imposters.
In “Fearless Leadership: Overcoming Reticence, Procrastination, and the Voices of Doubt Inside Your Head“, legendary business consultant and international speaker Alan Weiss, Ph.D.,provides exact strategies to discover, examine, eliminate, and finally be free of fear.
We recently sat down with Alan to discuss the impact fear has in today’s workplace, why many fears are merely perceived, and simple tips to become fearless.
Here is some of our conversation:
What role does fear play in today’s workplace?
Fear lives within people’s heads. It will dilute your efforts and mask your talents. Because of this, fearful people tend to be archly conservative, rarely innovate, often “hide,” and don’t provide the full measure of their potential. Consequently, if enough people in your organization feel this way, you’ll have lower productivity and poor performance. When workplace fear becomes chronic, it can take an organization down.
If you look at today’s most notorious corporate scandals, they’ve all have been rooted in fright. At Volkswagen, fearful leaders covered up false emissions claims. At Wells Fargo, fearful workers opened and maintained fraudulent customer accounts. Enron collapsed because of these dynamics. Fear should never be underestimated, and every leader should take it seriously.
How can you tell the difference between real fear — and fear that’s perceived?
Perception is reality, so that’s a difference without a distinction. If you perceive it, it affects you.
Picture a pilot flying a passenger jumbo jet into significant turbulence. The pilot is calm, even as the plane shakes and drops in altitude, because he or she has control, knows what’s happening, and can see the immediate repercussions of any corrective measures. The passengers, with no such sense of control or knowledge of what the pilot is doing, are in a state of legitimate and total fear. But it’s perceived.
To judge if fear is real, look at the hard evidence. Then find out what’s causing it, just like the pilot troubleshooting an emergency. You remove fears by removing their causes.
We tend to associate fear with a state a panic, but you explain that fear manifests in subtle ways. What’s an example?
One of the manifestations of fear is the refusal or inability to act in the moment, to act when the potential for positive results is highest. I call this a failure to “pull the trigger.” This is, of course, metaphorical, and no one can die making leadership decisions, even wrong ones.
I’m a big fan of due diligence for appropriate decisions and initiatives. You shouldn’t be hiring an advertising agency, or buying an off-shore facility, or changing your pension fund investments, or investing in property without a boatload of due diligence. But there comes a point where you need to move from defense to offense. You need to pull the trigger.
As a society, we equate cautious movement with wisdom and prudence. But look at Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Ronald Reagan, Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, Steven Spielberg, and Barack Obama. They had no trouble pulling the trigger, and they don’t exactly constitute a pantheon of failure.
What are simple tips young professionals can put into practice to become fearless?
First, ask yourself, “What upsides and downsides are we dealing with here?” Using an upside-downside, reward-risk ratio ensures that your risk-taking is prudent, not a gamble, and aligned with probable, pragmatic, positive outcomes.
Second, ask yourself, “What’s the worst-case scenario?” Your actions aren’t going to affect the future of humanity. Keep your perspective.
Third, tuck your ego away. Constructive feedback will inform your decisions and remove fear. Don’t allow rejection or potentially adverse responses to stop you.
Finally, listen to feedback from people you trust, whom you have asked for input, rather than input from unsolicited sources. Unsolicited feedback is for the sender, not the recipient.
What do you hope readers will take from your book?
When you understand the basis for both covert and overt fears — and master techniques to deal with them — you’ll lead a more fearless life that you’ll enjoy more.
To learn more about Alan Weiss and his new book, visit his website.
Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.