We all experience fear to a smaller or larger extent in our lives. Some might even say that most if not all of our daily actions and decisions are based on fear - fear of rejection, failure, emotional or physical pain, starvation, dying, etc.
Over the next couple of weeks I'll be posting several blogs on the topic of fear, how it develops in each of us, how it affects every aspect of our lives and what we can do to (partially) overcome it. I've been outlining these blogs for a while already. However, before getting to writing them down, I recently came across two podcasts (one and two) by Brené Brown that I want to talk about first. Although fear is at its base, she makes the claim that it's not our fear - but the armor we build in response to it - that sits in the way of daring leadership. When we imprison our heart in that armor, it kills our courage.
I don't want to go into detail on every aspect covered by Brené in her podcasts. Please listen to them in full - and spend some time reading her book "Dare to Lead". There are two specific examples that struck me - as I've experienced them firsthand but have also come across these in my leadership of others and in my coaching.
The first is a combination of the "Knower" and "Action Bias". The Knower prefers answers and being right over learning and getting it right. Action Bias, although not necessarily bad, can lead to solving problems that aren't fully understood yet if insufficient time is taken to understand the problem first.
A lot of us (yes - that includes me) are more comfortable talking ourselves, sending information out to others, telling others what to do, than we are asking questions. Without asking questions there is no learning, there is no curiosity. There are two key risks if we don't ask enough questions.
First, if we need to make a decision, we need sufficient information to make the decision. For example, if we're sitting in a project meeting, everyone around the table has information related to the problem we're trying to solve. Without asking questions, we may not get all their input and miss critical information in our decision making.
Second, even more important, if we're in this same project meeting and we haven't asked everyone for their opinion - people may not feel heard. And if people do not feel heard, they're often less engaged. We're at the risk of continuing our project with a decision not supported by everyone in our team.
There have been many meetings for me in the past where I used this tactic. As the manager of a team, I can quite easily push my view of how I feel we should proceed. More often than not, that view is accepted and we move on. By nature, I'm impatient and like to move on (my action bias) as quickly as possible. Thinking back to those meetings, I feel I could have done better - perhaps my team had more information that I didn't ask for and they didn't feel comfortable to share. I'm confident that if I had spent just a little time asking more questions, my team's results would have been better for it.
The second topic in Brené's podcast I have struggled with myself is caring for my team. For years, I considered my team to be just that - my team. Of course they have personal lives but at work we came together to get a job done. On Monday morning, I did ask the occasional question about the weekend - but from there we quickly got on to our projects and work.
About two years ago, I got the chance to work with a new HR person in our team, someone I admire up to this day. During the time, there were some difficult conversation I needed to have with members of my team. She helped me prepare for those meetings. During our preparations, every time she showed me how to take the human and caring angle in a conversation (vs. the standard feedback meetings we're taught to have as managers). Ever since then, I have started to look different at my team - actually caring for them as human beings.
Does that change how I treat my team on a daily basis? Perhaps not... I still challenge them, give them feedback and want them to do their work to the best of their abilities. But it certainly feels different for me. When I give feedback, I truly do that to help someone grow. When I give a compliment, it's meant from the heart. But, how I lead now feels very different to me.
Fear is something we develop from birth. It's not something we can easily overcome. In the next set of blogs, I'll write more about its origins and potential strategies to be more aware of our fears.