Fear is the biggest obstacle to performance and progress across just about every area of life. Think back through your life and I’m sure there have been times when fear has been the key blockage to you doing something. Let’s face it; it happens to just about everyone at some point in their life and, for some, it can even become a pattern of unimaginable power that holds them back from achieving anything like their true potential. It has certainly happened to me in my past. Not any more.
Yet, its not actually the fear of doing something that prevents most people from doing it and its not even the fear of failure. Those two, in themselves, can be an obstacle, for sure, but the really BIG wall that so many people build in their mind is the fear of either blame or ridicule. THOSE two are the demons and they often have their roots in the very culture that we grow up in or work in. For example, I have worked in many organisations across the world and, in a lot of those organisations, there has existed a culture of blame. A manager sets a task for an employee and, if he or she makes a mistake, they suffer blame for failing, often to the point of public ridicule and finger pointing. I have even seen an employee named and shamed for making a decision that didn’t work out. What the manager failed to credit was that, if that decision had not been made, things would have been far worse. Yet, the manager chose the soft option of dumping the buck onto the employee and then adding to it by saying, openly, that “I would never have made such a stupid decision.” His exact words in an open office. Result? Said employee decides not to make that mistake again and the decision making process is stifled. I could probably go on and on with examples but that’s not the outcome for this post. I would prefer to focus on how to kill the fear.
So, here are the things that any and all “leaders” can and should be doing:
Involvement: Encourage the members of your team to be actively involved in the decision making process wherever possible and wherever appropriate. Getting the team together and sharing a problem or a challenge is a great place to begin and openly asking for suggestions - and accepting some - will certainly bring your team in closer to you.
Empower: Build in a culture of empowerment that makes it not only possible for your people to make decisions and take actions but positively encourages it. Build in a system that rewards it, even when it goes awry.
Trust: Do I really need to say this? You have to give your people the trust they need in order to stretch and grow. Someone recently said to me, "trust is good but control is better." That's totally untrue. If all you do is to control others then you have to be permanently on hand to exercise that control. It's a waste of time, energy and resources of the worst kind.
Accept: People make mistakes. That’s because we are human and nobody is perfect. We ALL make mistakes occasionally. Accept that and things become far easier. When you empower a team member to take action or make a decision and he or she makes a mistake, accept it, discuss it in a one-to-one coaching setting, draw out what can be learned and what can be done to rectify the situation and then trust them to do so. Once you have done this a few times, you will be amazed at how quickly people begin to loosen up and step to the edge of their comfort zone. Don't expect miracles overnight but you can create them for yourself if you persevere.
Control: No, not control them but control YOU. Take your own emotional responses in check and avoid going into “dominant parent” mode when somebody makes a mistake. Manage your own internal state. Remember, you may also suffer from that self-same fear and that may well be the reason why you, in turn, feed it down the chain. BREAK the chain!
Is this a magic silver bullet? No, it isn’t but give yourself and your people time, encourage them to step out of the comfort zone and feel the fear and then empower them to work through that fear until it ceases to be a factor.