Sunday, October 30, 2016

Boo! 10 Ways Fear Disables Leaders

The ghosts. 
The ghouls. 
The goblins. 
It's Halloween--the time of year we love to be afraid.
I was waiting in line outside a "Haunted Hospital"at a Halloween event the other day and wondered, "What is it about being scared that is so much fun?" It's the adrenaline rush. The unknown. The loud screaming and frantic group hugs. Fear can be fun this time of year, however, at work? Not so much. Fear causes problems when we let it drive our decision making. As leaders, we'd like to think we make decisions rationally based on input from stakeholders, survey results, and good common sense, but sometimes we make decisions based on the "scary what ifs". Depending on our line of work, we could be afraid of financial loss, angry customers, politicians, liability, lawsuits, looking bad, setting a precedent, or failing all together. All important to consider, but when fear becomes our bottom line--the driving factor behind our decisions--then our decision making will be skewed.

Here are 10 things that can happen when we let fear drive our decision making:

  1. We no longer take risks. Instead, we play it safe. And the result? Our products, programs, and services become homogenized and sanitized. We aren't special; we're "one size fits all." We lose our uniqueness, impact, relevance, and creative edge. It's like being a ghost in a white sheet for Halloween every year. Boring.
  2. We become paralyzed. We no longer make decisions or recommendations. We leave that to "the higher ups"--our supervisor, board, CEO, lawyers, or council. Pretty soon we find ourselves running even the simple things up the chain of command because we don't want to be the one to make a mistake or have "something come back to haunt us." (Soon our staff will be paralyzed, too. See the next point.)
  3. We micromanage those who work for us. We require our staff to ask for approval for nearly everything--turning our team members into robots who can't even order a pencil without asking for permission. We make them do research before they can proceed on even the simplest idea. (a.k.a. "Analysis Paralysis") And if what they propose to do isn't listed as a "best practice" in some important document somewhere, we won't 'practice' it at all.
  4. We become "Negative Neds or Nancys." We talk more about what we can't do, than what we can. We point to other businesses/organizations that screwed up and say "We don't want to end up like them." We find ourselves describing "worst case scenarios;" overplaying the "what-ifs" and as a result morale suffers, creativity dies, and paranoia thrives. 
  5. We put people in boxes or "demonize" them. When we're scared or uncertain, it's easier to just say a customer, co-worker, or boss is "always like that" or "that group of people always..." We rely on broad generalizations and stereotypes as opposed to seeking to understand (or encouraging) a different perspective or trying to build relationships. When everyone is in their box (coffin?), we feel safe.
  6. We don't do special things for special people. We lump all our customers/participants together and treat them all the same regardless of whether or not we are actually meeting their unique needs. Did one person get a little extra special attention in a program or service? Did we modify a product, process, or program to meet a customer's unique need? Well, that's not fair to the rest of the customers/participants so therefore NO ONE will get any special attention. 
  7. We create paycheck collectors--paranoid paycheck collectors.  Everyone is so worried about making a mistake or standing out for the wrong reasons that they just do the bare minimum or only what they're told. Team members work hard to "stay under the radar" and just "do their job" which isn't working hard at all. The core motivating factor for all humans--making a difference--gets lost and people just do what their told or what's in their job description and nothing more. 
  8. We end up naked and don't know it. Remember the children's story "The Emperor Has No Clothes"? Read it Here  Fear makes people "go along to get along." They don't want to disagree with the boss or sound like the "squeaky wheel." They think: "I'm not going to say anything because this could come back to haunt me." As a result, leaders no longer receive honest input from their employees about how they are doing or candid feedback on the direction the company or organization is headed. Good leaders know that employees fear speaking up and encourage a culture where people can speak the truth. We can't just tell people to "talk straight" and expect them to do that. We have to show that we can tolerate difference of opinion or criticism by listening respectfully and with an open mind.  Also, do we only hire, reward, and promote those who tow the line? Disparage, alienate, or mock those who dare to disagree?  
  9.  Our health suffers. Fear activates our adrenal glands and releases a "flight or fight" response in our bodies. This is good if we are running from a goblin, but elevated cortisol hardens our arteries, skews our thinking, and makes us more prone to heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
  10. Ironically, what we fear becomes more likely. Fear keeps us from building relationships with our customers, clients, and participants. We just want to get them "in and out" of our programs, offices, and businesses without getting sued or yelled at. We want them to use our products and not complain. They're no longer people; they're numbers, survey respondents, spreadsheet fillers. So we lose touch. As a result we lose the very thing that keeps us from having problems in the first place: relationships. When we care for our customers/participants and they care for us, they are more likely to talk things through, work things out, let things go, and give us the benefit of the doubt when things go wrong.
As leaders we have to consider risks and use common sense to ensure our products, programs and services are safe, equitable, and inclusive. Of course, we must think about consequences, but we can do that without letting fear rule our every move. We can listen. Take a chance. Be courageous. Be creative. Think big. Welcome different perspectives. Encourage respectful disagreement. Ask for input. Make decisions. Make mistakes. Make exceptions. Make a difference.

Now, if you're done reading this, please sign below indicating that you will not sue me if none of the above works.

-Hope A. Horner, 2016
Contact author on hotmail at hopeh1122
 #forbes #leadershipnow #fearbasedleadership #hopehorner
For more great insight into this subject, check out this article for Forbes by Liz Ryan:
5 Characteristics of Fear Based Leaders

Saturday, October 8, 2016

More Than a Body

When I was eight years old I asked my Mom this question:
"Mom, when I get older, will I still think the same way inside my head?"
She kept drying the dishes but turned to look at me.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I mean, the way I think, inside my head, will I think the same way? Be the same person inside?"
She paused momentarily.
"No, you won't sweetie. You will grow up and think differently."
Even though this happened decades ago, I remember this conversation vividly because this was a VERY important question for me. I needed to know. I HAD to know. What I was trying to ask is, "Am I always going to be me as I know me to be inside my head?" I think about it now and that was a pretty deep question for someone who had just played Atari Donkey Kong five minutes before. No, I wasn't a budding philosopher, but I was the type of kid who always had the sense there is more than meets the eye; that there is more to this world this just the physical--just what we can touch, smell, see, and hear. I knew I was more than just a body, that there was a "me" inside my head and I was curious to know if it was going to grow up like my body. While I would add height and pounds and grow hair in strange places, would my thoughts grow up with me or was I already who I was going to be inside my head and my body just needed to catch up?
I'm not sure my Mom understood what I was asking. I had a hard time putting words to that question at eight. I had to grow up to understand both what I was asking and what the answer was.  Of course, now I know the real answer to that question is both yes AND No. Yes, I would always be who I am inside (my soul/spirit/person-hood), but my mind--my thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and perspective would change.  Just like any good philosophical question, the answer is ABSOLUTELY CERTAINLY MAYBE.

We are more than our bodies.
We are more than just mothers or sisters, daughters or sons, uncles or fathers or cousins.
We are more than just employees or bosses or CEO's or day laborers.
We are souls.

Have you ever had a chance encounter with a stranger and felt that connection? Not a body or mind connection, not a love connection, but a soul connection?
Recently, I had a cancer scare. I had a mammogram and my doctor told me to come in and have another one because they found something on my upper left breast that was "abnormal."  As I sat in the waiting room for my second mammogram with a bunch of women in hospital robes, a young woman came in the room and sat next to me. Her eyes were wide and wet. She fidgeted with her gown, picked at her nails, and shuffled through her purse. She heaved a big sigh and I turned toward her.
"Are you OK?" I asked.
She looked up quickly and just as quickly looked back down at her hands.
"Not really." She said.
"Did you already have your mammogram?" I asked.
She nodded. "They found something and plus I have an infection in one of my breasts and have been on medication and it is not working, so they don't know what it is."  She started to cry.
"I am so sorry." I reached into my purse for a tissue. I handed it to her and she took it and wiped her eyes.
"I have kids." She said.  "I can't even think about..."
I reached out and put my hand on her shoulder.
"I know. I'm sorry." I said, "This is very scary."
She nodded and then looked up with eyes full of tears. "Did they find something in your scan?"
"Yes." I said. "They did."
"I'm sorry." She said and put her head back down.
"Thank you."
Just then her name was called and she grabbed her stuff and disappeared from the room holding her gown around her.
I looked up and the lady sitting directly across from me gave me a timid smile.  I smiled back. I thought about how we were all sitting here thinking the same thing:  "Am I about to be told I have cancer?"
A few minutes later, my name was called and I stood up to go with the nurse. As I walked out of the waiting area, the lady I had spoken to earlier came down the hall.
"Good news!" She said. "It's nothing!" She smiled from ear to ear.  I gave her a big smile and a thumbs up.
"What's your name?" she asked.
"Of course it is." She said with a little chuckle, "Thank you." I hugged her and followed the nurse ahead of me into the examination room.
Turns out my "abnormality" was nothing, too, and for that I was very grateful.  But I will never forget that moment of connection. As we sat in that waiting room realizing our bodies may have failed us, our souls connected. We connected as people. People who were scared. Nervous. Anxious. Fragile.
Maybe I have always been me inside, in the sense that I have always known there is more to me than just what meets the eye.
I hope you feel that way about yourself, too, and see others the same way. It's what connects us all.
We are more than our bodies.

-Hope A. Horner, 2016
Contact author to publish on gmail at hopeh1122. Follow on Twitter @HopeNote

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Trust, Amplified

"Hi, my name is Hector. I'm interested in the amplifier?"
His voice went up at the end and he had a thick accent. Hector was pronounced Heck - Tor, like two separate words. Eeenterested had a double e sound at the beginning.
"Do you still have it?"
"Yes, I do." I was selling my old Kenwood stereo amplifier on Craigslist.  I had just put the ad up a few hours ago and Hector was the first person to call.
"Can I come in awhile--in 20 or 30 minutes?" He asked. I could tell he was driving.
"Uh, I'm actually just heading out to dinner. Where are you?"
"I am near Topanga Canyon in the Valley and I am going home to Lancaster."
"Oh, so you will pass right by me." Not exactly, but close. I could tell he wanted to pick up the amp on his way.
"Yes, if I can come by in a few minutes on my way that would be good."
I knew on a Friday it was going to take a lot longer than a few minutes in the middle of rush hour to get from the most western part of the valley all the way to Santa Clarita.
"I'll tell you what, Hector, I am going to leave the amplifier outside my door for you, OK?  Just put the $20 under the door mat, OK?"
He paused.
"Does that work for you?" I asked.
There was a long pause like he was thinking it over or maybe we had gotten disconnected?
"Thank you." he said. "I will leave you the money. I promise."
"I know, I trust you." I said.
"Can you text me your address?"
We hung up and I texted him my address. I put the amplifier on my porch next to a couple of Sparkletts water bottles I had yet to bring in, grabbed my keys, and headed out to dinner.
About thirty minutes into dinner my phone rang. I excused myself from the table and went outside.
"Hi, this is Hector. I think I am here in your neighborhood but I can't find your house."
"What street are you on?" I asked. People always made a left instead of a right when they entered my town-home complex so I figured he was probably one street over. Sure enough, he was.
"OK, Hector just go back out and make a right, and when you get to my street, go all the way to the end."
I stayed on the phone as he drove, naming each street on his way. He eventually got to mine. "OK, I found it." I could hear the relief in his voice.
"Great!' I said. I was ready to hang up and go inside to finish my dinner.
"Thank you." Hector said. He sounded closer to the phone now. "Thank you for trusting me."
"You're welcome, Hector. I do trust you."
"You don't know me; I have an accent and you trust me. You're a wonderful person."
I didn't know what to say. I think I told him thank you and enjoy the amp, drive safe, or something like that. I went back inside and finished my dinner with tears in my eyes. I knew there would be $20 under my doormat when I got home. There was.

I think about it now and I realize Hector trusted me, too. He trusted I would leave the amplifier where I said I would. He trusted that when he got home to plug it in, it would work.
We had both trusted each other. Given each other the benefit of the doubt. Believed that given the opportunity the other person would do the right thing.
This is how I want to live my life:
Trust Amplified.

-Copyright Hope A. Horner, 2016
To reprint or use offline, please contact author on gmail at hopeh1122.
Follow Hope on Twitter @HopeNote