Great leaders we have had the privilege of coaching know how to use fear for growth. Weak people sometimes think it is smart to use another person’s fear to get what they want out of them or keep them down in some way. Try that for too long and watch the negative consequences of narrow vision and lack of initiative. Instead, when used correctly, fear is the gateway to new insight. As leaders it’s vital that we recognize how a colleague is feeling fear and more importantly guide them toward a new state of awareness. Fear is most commonly felt as alertness to risks, dangers and threats. Most of us, however, have learned to respond to risk awkwardly: either reacting and trying to control the risk or minimizing and trying not to be afraid. Showing up calculating or naive.
A team member that’s caught up in calculating behavior will come across detached, nervous, with a thought process that is all about controlling and protecting. Sometimes their assessment of the danger appears out of proportion. Often it is not even clear what the control effort is actually protecting. In more intense reaction, the person comes off as a “micromanager”, cold, unfeeling, even cruel. It can even go to frozen: avoiding making any moves in order to remain safe. All of this is more than a little detrimental to the overall success of your team and sabotaging of your work to build potent team relationships.
On the other side of the spectrum is the “ostrich” approach of handling fear. This team member seems in denial of pending threats, trusting and spontaneous in a way that comes off as dumb or reckless. Often this connects with getting told in earlier life they were stupid or punished in ways that made no sense. When a person believes they can never be smart enough to prevent bad things from happening, they begin to downplay their own intelligence and become blind to creative solutions. Get into a fight with another person’s fear—by trying to tell them not to be afraid or making them wrong for what they feel—and you both lose. The tool we suggest for calculating or naïve is: inquire. Explore the fear. Inquiring in this way relaxes the calculating and balances the naïve. Find out as much as you can what it is the individual is protecting. As they bring out their fear where they can see it, a new clarity emerges. The person begins to appreciate the scope and sensitivity of his or her personal radar. This sense of awareness will allow them to respond to risks skillfully, and, as part of that, to connect rather than detach or distract.