Under the Surface: A Leadership Journey  
  A new leadership blog in 2015 by Mark Kenny about changing how we think about leadership development and the under the surface issues that truly inhibit performance.  

1 items categorized "Fear"


Could This One Thing Be The Root Cause Of Your Group's Performance Problem?

Fish_Tank_SmallThis weekend I bought and installed a fish tank for my office (with a really cool “sunken” submarine no less).  It’s a great leadership reminder to always consider what’s “under the surface.”  There are not yet fish in the tank because the water chemistry must be just right before fish can thrive in it.  That takes time and attention.

It’s the same at every organization: it’s what’s under the surface that determines how well people thrive and perform.

Fear: A Significant Element that Affects “Under the Surface” Chemistry

The United States is the most anxious nation in the world and jobs are the leading cause of stress for adults.  This directly affects performance, team chemistry, culture, and the quality of our work.  Address the fear in your people and you just may be hitting the root cause of your performance problem.

Why We Experience Fear

Early in my professional career, I experienced anxiety symptoms, including a pounding heart.  To this day I’m not sure why.  Psychology tells us that we feel fear when our sense of security, safety, or value is threatened – even when it’s not a real threat.  In the workplace, this could mean:

  • Our job feels threatened
  • Our opinion or viewpoint is not valued
  • Our boss doesn’t like us
  • Leadership doesn’t understand what we are really doing
  • Poor financial results
  • An upcoming restructuring

Addressing Fear Personally

Our natural response is to avoid fear altogether.  However, psychology tells us this deepens it and leaves us with a sense of failure.  On the contrary, the way to address our fear is through “habituation.”  In other words, we have to go “through it” until our nervous system becomes accustomed to it and is no longer aroused by the experience.  The way to overcome a fear of flying is to fly.  The way to overcome a fear of spiders is to handle spiders (ah…some fears may not be worth overcoming).

If we take that to a workplace context:

  • If you experience anxiety talking with executives, you have to talk with executives.
  • If you experience anxiety delivering difficult messages, you have to deliver difficult messages.

Helpful lifestyle actions include regular exercise (this has been huge for me), sleeping more, eating better, getting financially sound, and developing a spiritual foundation.

Organizational Symptoms

Symptoms of fear in a team or organization include:

  • People are looking out for #1
  • People don’t speak their mind or what they really believe
  • People are more concerned about appearances than the quality of their work
  • There are lots of policies and rules (because there is little trust)
  • There are no consensus-building conversations

Addressing Fear as a Leader

There are three things a leader can do to proactively reduce the fear in their team and organization:

  • Become a truth-seeker: seek out what people really feel and believe.  Don’t just hear what people think you want to hear.  Uncover the unsaid in a healthy way.
  • Communicate clearly: people naturally feel threatened by what they don’t know.
  • Reduce the rules: I’m a procedure / process person, but if you’ve gone overboard, scale them back to demonstrate trust in your people.

Fear is epidemic in today’s organizations.  Leaders must learn how to address it if they want to touch what is likely the root cause of many performance problems.

How have you addressed fear in your own life or in your own organization?