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Overcoming Your Fear

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Fear interferes with productivity and innovation in the workplace. Leaders face fear when dealing with a difficult client, handling tension on the team, asking for a raise, giving a presentation, worrying about the permanence of their job: any number of situations may engender fear. Fear in a leader causes intense stress, a lack of concentration, and conflicting thoughts that interfere with performance.

How can leaders foster positive thinking in themselves and their team to overcome their fears?

Overcome Your Fears with Positive Thinking

The best approach to overcoming fear rests in pivoting to positive thoughts that point you in a more hopeful and encouraging direction. Positive thinking counters the forces of disillusionment and lack of motivation; helps to heal and restore a sense of internal wholeness; and replaces the emotional detachment caused by fear with a realization that success is possible.

To stimulate positive thinking, look back upon your previous success. Use the building block of past success to realize that future success is possible. By remembering previous success, you also remind yourself of your proven skills and strengths; they have carried you through other situations and will carry you through this one.

If you start the day with a positive attitude, it is easier to maintain a positive attitude. That attitude you start with not only helps you as the leader but also spreads to your team and anyone else you interact with. If you smile, people smile back—they’re on your side as you confront fear.

Draw on your relationships, both personal and professional, for support. Find the realistic optimist in your circle, and work with that person to hone your strategy for overcoming fear, recalling past successes, and building your positive thinking.

Overcome Your Fears by Reframing the Experience

You are not the first person in the entire world to face fear. By finding out how others handled the situation that terrifies you, you will not only gain good advice but will discover that your fears are normal. Fear has a tendency to morph into self-blame and undermine our self-esteem; if you convince yourself that everyone else is brave and showing fear is a moral failure, your normal and temporary fear becomes more of a roadblock than the situation that caused the fear. Normalizing reduces fear.

Remember to view the fear in the full context of your life as one moment in time. Ask yourself two questions: “What’s the worst that can happen?” and “Can I recover from the worst?” If you lose your job, are you capable of finding another? If you embarrass yourself, will you have people who still love you as you are? If you don’t get the raise, will you still be able to afford your home, food, and transportation—or find another way to earn extra money? Part of the experience of fear is that it enlarges the situation until it seems to take over your entire life when it is merely a passing portion.

Finally, you help yourself overcome fear by reframing the fearful experience as a challenge, not a disaster waiting to happen. A challenge is something you can learn from whether or not you succeed at it. If you can take that a step further and view the challenge as a game with yourself—will I beat my last high score in facing this challenge?—you will defang your fear.

TIP: In the midst of fear, you may find it difficult to think positively or reframe the experience. Ask for support to bolster your coping skills and seek additional information that may help you with the reframing.

Overcome the Fears of Your Team—and Your Fear of Leading Them

One of the most devastating fears a team faces is fear of the unknown: a mercurial boss, who explodes or disappears for no known reason; a company that always seems to totter on the brink; a leader who has favorites one day and new favorites the next; and alarmist gossip in place of facts. Communication is the cure for fear of the unknown. You should communicate regularly not only about the company and its prospects but about your own standards and expectations. If your team knows that you will share what you know, they will spend less time in fear.

Fear of confrontation can leave a team stressed and burned out, as they try to cope with a problem teammate, boss, or workload or with their own unexpressed anger at a situation. Regular team meetings, a true open-door policy, and a clear set of rules about team interactions (such as everyone discussing ideas respectfully) help to diffuse bad situations. But once the fear of confrontation takes hold, the team may need outside help in learning how to talk about difficult topics and situations. If you yourself avoid difficult conversations, you will undermine your team’s work toward openness, so you may need help in learning to overcome your fear.

A 2016 Gallup Poll that spread across multiple countries showed that employees who feel they can talk with their manager and raise any type of question are much more engaged—and therefore, much more productive, less likely to leave, less likely to have an accident on the job, and more likely to bring in revenue. The poll report recommended that leaders meet one-on-one with each team member to develop individual rapport. That meeting should be apart from any performance or salary review.

Finally, fear of change infects every level of employee in the company, including the C-suite, and can be one of the biggest hurdles in responding to challenges, let alone crises. According to an article in Psychology Today, the fear of change is based in fear of the unknown—we don’t know what the outcome of the change will be and that uncertainty causes us to invent our own stories, which we rehash over and over. Because of its close relationship with fear of the unknown, the fear of change is also best met with constant communication.

Acknowledge that the fears of your team are real and that facing the unknown, confronting a problem, or dealing with change is always risky—promising unalloyed benefit is unrealistic. Still, if you emphasize the value of facing the situation, offer appropriate encouragement and support, and listen to what your team needs, you should be able to mitigate that risk and help them—and yourself—manage your stress the SMaRT way and overcome fear.

TIP: A team’s fears often reflect a leader’s fears. By being willing to ask for help and using active listening in difficult situations, you prompt your team to use the same tactics when facing their own fears.

Key Takeaways

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