Senior leaders, and especially CEOs, are typically seen as impenetrable personalities. Fear is not something thought to even enter their minds, much less plague them. Yet, the ‘average’ senior leader knows fear all too well.
Recent research published in the Harvard Business Review by Roger Jones affirms the reality of fear in the life of the CEO. “While few executives talk about them, deep and uncontrolled private fears can spur defensive behaviors that undermine how they and their colleagues set and execute company strategy,” says Jones.
In his study, Jones learned that participants feared the following, in descending order: being found incompetent, which tends to undermine relations with other executives; underachieving, which can lead to bad risks in attempts to overcompensate; appearing too vulnerable; being politically attacked by coworkers, which breeds mistrust and overly cautious behavior; and appearing foolish, which limits willingness to speak up.
Addressing and overcoming fear should be the goal of every senior leader, not only for the risk it poses to the company, but also for the health risks to the individual. Here are 5 steps to help:
- Be honest with yourself — The fears listed above aren’t ones we’re born with. There are really only two innate fears: the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. The others are ones we develop; and you can get a lot closer to healing just be being honest about the source of those fears. Simply asking yourself “Why am I afraid?” and “What happened in the past that makes the feel this way?” will do wonders for your psyche.
- Get specific — Being organized or a “planner” has its benefits, the most notable of which is probably the control it provides. Often, fear is born out of a lack of control, so in taking back a bit by thoroughly planning out how we will approach a situation assuages some of those fears. So, when you begin to fear, grab and pen and make a plan for how you are going to work through it.
- Visualize — Can you visualize what it is like to conquer a situation that makes you fearful? Our brains work in such a way that once we allow ourselves to visualize success, we are better positioned to actually achieve it. For an example of a visualization technique, visit Dealing with Fear.
- Talk it out — Sometimes fear becomes so engrained, we simply aren’t able to manage it alone. If you find fear to be consuming, seek out a confidant. Many of us are so afraid to speak of fear for fear of appearing incapable or overly emotional. Yet, the places fear can take a person can produce outcomes far worse than those that come from seeking out assistance before it’s too late. Choose a friend, a sister, brother, coworker, or even a paid professional. Talking it out allows us to acknowledge, reason, deal, and heal.
- Let it go — Then, there comes that time when you must accept that you’ve reached this point in your career for a reason, you are doing the best you can (if, in fact, you actually are), and being fearful is only holding you back. Then, let it go.
“Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will.” — W. Clement Stone
Carl Robinson, Ph.D., Managing Principal, Advanced Leadership Consulting
carl @ leadershipconsulting.com
We help maximize the effectiveness of individuals and organizations by helping them improve their ability to lead, work together, select and develop their people.