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The key to leading in fearful times

Dr Amy Silver
24 June 2021 2 minute readShare

We have been, and continue to be, in excessively fearful situations. We fear the virus, the financial implications, the social implications. Fear has been evoked for most of us during this past 18 months in ways it has never been.

And now, we have additional fears of social re-integration, returning to our previous social habits or workplaces. Fear is everywhere, around us and within us.

How does fear interfere with our team performance?

COVID has, of course, highlighted to us how much fear that we have, but it has always been there, directing our behaviours when it perceives we are in danger.

The research is clear: the more fear there is for the individuals in the team, the less those people will be able to perform at their best, the less they will be able to use and build on each other’s strengths, the less they are likely to be in a state of learning or capable of change and adaptation; the smaller our decisions get, the smaller our diversity of thinking and the more disengaged they become.

If our fear voice is in control, we can make poorer decisions as we norm towards the least risky option (to avoid the risk of failure), or we groupthink to keep us safe (to avoid the risk of rejection) or we keep quiet when we see mistakes (to avoid the risk of being wrong) or we don’t tell people we don’t understand (to avoid being thought of as stupid), we don’t give people feedback (to avoid upsetting them or offending people).

We also arc up when we feel under threat, fearing our status or our power; act defensively or refuse to trust; create silos of defence and act in other ways that reduce what we can do together.

How does fear interfere with your leadership?

Recognising where your fear voice commands you without you even knowing or having a chance to debate with it, would be an interesting discovery. What if it was playing a significant role in your communication, your connections, decisions or actions?

Do you want fear to your automatic internal leader or would it be better to evaluate this fear voice and decide deliberately knowing what fear wants for you, but also knowing what you could do for the good of the longer term, or your clients, or your colleagues.

Changing your relationship with fear

Whether you are focused on yourself as a leader or your team, changing your relationship with fear is key. Understand that fear will always be here; thank goodness, it is — it saves us from all sorts of danger. There is nothing wrong with fear.

However, when we automatically let fear decide what we are to do, we leave ourselves vulnerable to be under its spell. It wants to save us in the short term, but sometimes this is at the cost of our longer-term goals.

Being able to turn towards it with kindness and gratitude will help us work out whether it is a worthy guest or whether it has taken too much control.

Control your fear voice

Once we get close enough to our fear voice that we can hear it, we can start to evaluate it and decide whether it has things of use to tell us or whether it is actually causing us more grief.

The limited range of options that the fear voice gives us — avoid, arc up, play dead — is not sophisticated to deal with our working life. 

To what extent is our fear voice “right” or “useful” will be helpful in giving us a space to respond to it rather than simply reacting automatically. We may decide that our fear voice is right or useful and therefore do as it is guiding us, but we may equally decide that we want to experiment with moving past our fear.

Our performance as leaders is determined by how much we can manage our emotions so that they don’t manage us. It is my opinion that unless we upgrade our control over our inner fear voice, we will not be able to survive the changeable and uncertain times ahead.

Dr Amy Silver is a psychologist, speaker and author on the management of our emotions for high performance.

The key to leading in fearful times
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Dr Amy Silver

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