We all have fears. Each and every one of us.

I am not talking about being afraid of heights… Or water… Or creepy crawlies for that matter!

I’m talking about the deeper, personal fears of human beings.

The fears that trigger ineffective behaviours, which compensate for and hide our fears.

At CEC we talk about 3 distinct categories of personal fears. Here’s how it works:

  1. Fear of not having enough; not being in control
  2. Fear of not belonging, not being recognised, heard or seen
  3. Fear of not being (good) enough

Do you recognise one or more of these fears in yourself? Mostly unconsciously, these fears are awakening your ‘ego’: the part of you that wants to protect you from harm or potential harm. Ego is our life saver and it also protects our identity. So, when a personal fear pops up, ego responds, in order to stop us feeling that fear as quickly as possible.

Let’s address each category one by one:

1. The fear of not having enough, not being in control

Here is an example: You are facing an important deadline and it’s coming very close. You foresee that you will not make it – there are too many things that other people still need to provide you with and they are not sticking to their deadlines. This triggers the fear of not being in control, with all the associated consequences, eg. not being able to deliver to your boss in time. Anxiety is rising, as is frustration… Anger and ego then step in, arm-in-arm, to protect your reputation.

This is when you start to display ineffective behaviours: micro management or even DIY – doing it yourself! You might even start to prework your boss or stakeholders by blaming others or other departments. Sending emails with multiple people CC:ed, to make sure you are not to blame for the delay. Sounds familiar? All this to regain your sense of being in control.

2. The fear of not belonging, not being recognised, heard or seen:

Another example: You have been working very hard for many years, yet that promotion still hasn’t arisen, and your salary increase still hasn’t shown on your pay slip. Or perhaps that simple pat on the shoulder by your boss hasn’t taken place in a very long time? You feel like you are giving it all and you’re not rewarded for it. Anxiety rises, frustration kicks in, then anger and ego appear once again to protect you. Behaviours like claiming successes of others or emphasising others’ mistakes will make sure you shine, rather than your colleagues… You make sure you meet your targets but at the expense of others. All this to make sure you will be noticed, in order to feel that sense of belonging.

3. The fear of not being good enough:

Final example: Have you ever been worried about what others might think of you? Whether your performance actually matches the expectations of your organisation, stakeholders or shareholders? Have you ever noticed how the difference between your performance and who you are as a person starts to become blurred? In fact, the fear of not being enough awakens your ego by not making a distinction at all between the two. How you perform becomes who you actually are. At this point you will most likely start showing behaviours such as: silo mentality (me and my targets), information hoarding, raising voices and being authoritarian. Excessive external focus will lead to inauthentic behaviour and non-use of your own authentic power as a leader.

So how do highly effective leaders cope with these fears? 

We all have these fears now and then. So in fact, the question isn’t how to avoid them, the challenge is how to go about working with them for a more productive result.

The good news is that you have already taken the most important step by reading this blog. Now that you have become conscious of the 3 main categories of fear and some examples of ineffective behaviours linked to them, you are able to recognise those fears and the role that ego plays.

Here’s how we work with leaders to harness the fear and turn it into a beneficial strategy for positive leadership:

Step 1: Become conscious of ineffective behaviours in self and others.

Step 2: Reflect on the main fear behind the ineffective behaviour. Pose yourself the question: what am I afraid of? What are my worries really about?

Step 3: Focus on what is in your sphere of control and create an unconditional (ie. not depending on others) action list. Share this list together with your initial fear or worry with your boss, with stakeholders – anyone you report to.

Easier said than done? Yes, especially in the heat of the moment of corporate life, when reputations and targets are at stake. Yet we at Parrhesian have seen leaders shift from unconscious ineffective behaviours to conscious effective behaviours in a short space of time, which leads to a more authentic and open method of leadership and therefore better results within a better work culture.

Our clients learn a new language with which to address fears and worries in a sustainable way. Are you interested to know more on how this can be accomplished in your organisation? Please reach out to us

(Photo credit: Martin Sanchez | Unsplash)