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Overcoming Worry and Fear

We all worry. Do we ever worry! Earl Nightingale, founder of Nightingale Conant Corporation,says a reliable estimate of the things people worry about fall into these percentages:

  • 40% will never happen

  • 30% have already happened

  • 12% are needless worries about our health

  • 10% are petty miscellaneous

  • 8% real legitimate worries

Nightingale writes “In short, 92 percent of the average person’s worries take up valuable time, cause painful stress -even mental anguish - and are absolutely unnecessary."

Worry is understandable, even fear, when you think of the age in which we live. Our work culture is variously described as volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. That doesn’t surprise many of us—that is the new norm we deal with. In fact, with all the pressures surrounding us, fear of failure is cited as the single greatest obstacle to actually succeeding in life in today’s world.

Healthy humans experience fear. It is core to our humanity. The best leaders will have anxiety and fear as they face unexpected problems and take risks to move the ball forward. It’s natural and normal.

However, if the fear is not managed and overcome, leaders generally fall prey to less threatening shortcuts that cripple their leadership. These decisions all seem completely rational to their fearful minds.A key skill that marks great leaders is the ability to effectively manage this and other pressures and anxieties. It starts with recognizing the signs that indicate you are being led by fear and anxiety:

  • You avoid dealing with the very thing that needs attention.When you feel uneasy, and so you want to procrastinate, don’t self-sabatoge. Dive in and get it cone!

  • You are losing credibility. Your team is watching you, and they aren’t stupid. They figure it out, and step back themselves.

  • Everything seems urgent, important and in need of 24/7 responsiveness. You and your associates are working on evenings and weekends – even on tasks that don’t really require it.

  • People are critiquing and blaming more than innovating. Mistakes are not tolerated so people shy away from taking risks and offering new ideas. Second-guessing decisions is the norm. People are focused more on blaming others for failures than owning their share of responsibility.

  • You feel like you are all alone. When you are scared, you forget your team. This one is particularly brutal because it cuts you off from the people who are most necessary to your success.

  • You over-react and create chaos. You know how when you are startled, you can over-react, and make a mess with whatever you are carrying, spilling everything? When we get scared, we can do the same thing and leave everyone frustrated and confused.

  • A short-term focus on producing results overshadows a longer-term perspective on developing others and investing for the future. The only thing that seems to matter is what’s happening right now.

  • You clamp down on information, withdraw, and often lash out. When you are working out of fear, you don’t trust, so you keep information to yourself. Which causes you to isolate from the people who can help you most. You protect yourself and blame, and this destroys relationships and cripples leadership.

  • You give up the ability to envision the future. You are just trying to avoid problems, not do something great. You avoid risks.

  • You don’t own and acknowledge your mistakes, and grow from them. Fear of being considered f failure keeps you from taking the actions that would redeem you mistakes and make you a trustworthy leader.

  • You demotivate your team, and inspire them to fear as well. Fear motivates, not doubt. But only for a short time. It sucks the energy out of the team, and recreates others in your fearful image.

When these fear-driven perspectives and behaviors become the norm for a leader, the toll is huge – on morale, engagement, retention, efficiency, health, productivity and profitability. So how do you conquer it?Know your tendency under stress. Which of these symptoms describe the way you find yourself? Work on a strategy to halt yourself early in the game.

Listen to your fear. What is it trying to tell you? Take some time to examine what is going on and understand it. Just listening will help. Then you can begin addressing those things.

Connect with your team. When alone or isolated, things grow out of proportion. Together you can get healthy perspective and problem-solve.

Give yourself power. Ask: What are the results I want to achieve? What can I do to accomplish those results?

Examine the actual consequences (not just what you imagine). Your mind can play tricks on you and grow imagined problems to epic proportions. What is it you are afraid of? What would actually happen if that came to pass, what would you do? Resistance to facing the worst possible outcome that causes most of the anxiety and stress associated with worry. Once you have written down the worst possible thing that can happen, you will find that you will slowly stop worrying. Then resolve to accept the worst possible outcome, should it occur. Just say to yourself, “Well, if it happens this way, I’ll learn to live with it.” Once you have resolved to accept the worst, should it occur, you no longer have anything to worry about. All the stress caused by denial, by refusing to face what the worst could be, suddenly disappears.

Count on making mistakes. Perfectionists and high achievers sometimes let fear paralyze them because they fear making a mistake. But mistakes are a good thing. They mean you are trying something new and stretching. Let them teach you.

Practice by starting small. Overcoming fears takes time and practice. Start small, and before long you will find that situations that originally would destroy you for weeks will only give you a couple of hours of consideration.

Get help. Tiger Woods has a coach. At the peak of his career, he had a coach. Do not let your fear of being seen as weak or inadequate keep you from getting the help you need to be effective.

You can defeat each fear as it arises and become an effective leader in the hardest of times. Take courage!

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