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:
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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