Fear and how it plays an unhelpful role today

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I just wanted to share with you some thoughts that I have been mulling over following a number of coaching sessions I have been conducting since the COVID-19 virus changed everything. The main focus of my conversations with people at this time seems to centre around fear.
Now I don’t mean the fear of the virus, and the impact of the pandemic; I think it is safe to say we are all afraid of the potential impact that will have on our families; rather the fear I am talking about is more related to work and our ability to perform.
It seems to me that one of the impacts of the pandemic and the global isolation programme is to have heightened our senses to the feelings we have about relationships at work. The pressure of working from home for some has increased the pressure to balance work and life. I say for some, because it does appear that some people are able to manage that balance more positively than others. The obvious ones are those without small children at home, or who have spent most of their working time from home and have therefore perfected their home working routine, but even these people are showing signs of challenge and distress.
The fear I am noticing falls into three areas, and these coincide with the elements we discuss in our development programmes:

  1. The fear of letting people down, whether it be our family, our manager or ourselves
  2. The fear of not being able to cope
  3. The fear of not being able to do what we want to do, being restricted

Now these fears are perfectly natural and understandable, but it made me think. As “Leaders”, what are we doing to alleviate these fears in the people that work for us? Or are we exacerbating them due to our own lack of self-awareness, and self-orientation?
We are all human, titles and labels make no difference to that fact, but when we take on the role of “Leader”, there is a certain responsibility that comes with it to support our people and in many ways understand the potential fears they may have and do whatever we can to reduce the impact the business has on these fears. Don’t get me wrong; many of the leaders I talk to are aware of this and are adapting accordingly. However, I am also having conversations with leaders who have their own fears about their people and are struggling to deal with how to handle them.

The fears I am hearing from some leaders are:

The fear of non-delivery.

The fear of a lack of a “sense of urgency”

The fear of losing control

Again, all of these fears are justifiable, natural and inherently human; the challenge is that with all of this fear bubbling under the surface of our communications, it’s only power is to drive an increasingly unhealthy performance model, and develop a growing level of distrust.
A leader who is afraid of not performing because their people are not able to deliver, will signal at a subtle level that the person they are talking to is “letting them down”. Combine that with an individual who is already afraid of letting people down and the outcome is obvious.
A leader who is driven by targets and worries about team members who seem to lack the same “sense of urgency” may misinterpret an individual who is struggling to cope with working from home and managing their time effectively, resulting in them focusing on the things they can get done, rather than the “one” thing the leader deems important, again with obvious results.
A leader who values knowledge and feels comfortable when they are aware of all actions, issues and potential threats may feel unable to control their team because of the working from home situation. As a result, they overcommunicate, asking questions, directing workloads more specifically than usual. Combine this with an employee who is struggling with the restrictions the “lockdown” is forcing on them, the limitations of the technology they are using and the forced change in their daily routine, and you can see how the pressure will increase for both individuals.
Obviously, I have contrived the scenarios above, but they are based on real conversations I have had over the past few weeks, with increasing frequency.
So, what have my musings brought me to believe, and why am I writing this long blog?
The truth for me is very simple. Now more than ever do we have to be kind to each other and accept that we are all dealing with the global challenge differently. As leaders, we need to recognise our role as both a driver of results and performance and the motivator of people. That requires us to be cognisant of the different people who look up to us, and adaptable in our approach to each of them.
Trust is the currency of this challenging time, and it is now that we as leaders develop genuine trust with our colleagues.
Finally, it is now a time to relax and slow down to go faster and perform. A smile, a laugh and a genuine virtual coffee for no other reason than to check in are the coins of our currency. A helping hand, a genuine listening ear and the ability to just be there when needed is all the investment you need.
Laughter, humour and genuinely feeling happy is more powerful and has more long-term benefits than any pressure or fear based approach, but it’s hard to see that when we are looking at a personal history that has proven to us that, the “last minute panic” to get things done produces the result. There is a belief system that this level of pressure is the only way to achieve anything and given the added pressure of the current pandemic, we just do not have the time to change that approach.
Its worked before it will work again.
But that’s simply not true!
Now is the time to focus on your health and happiness and that of your colleagues. Recognise that work is an integral part of who we are as humans, it’s something to embrace not resist. Communicate positively on the priorities we have and celebrate consistently on the success. Step by step, the change will happen and who knows, something brilliant will come from this.
I have added a link to a clip from the film “monsters inc”, simply because in my mind, it sums up everything that is wrong with human society. For those of you who don’t know the story, the monsters in the movie live in a world that is powered by human fear. To generate energy, the monsters creep into children’s bedrooms at night to scare them, capturing their screams as energy to drive their world. Pretty much like we have been taught since we were children. Perform or you will fail, and failure is unacceptable. Getting things wrong is bad, being the best is good, and if you’re not good and you don’t achieve then you will not be successful and therefore not happy!
In this clip, they identify that rather than scare the children, if they make them laugh the energy, they receive is ten times more powerful than the fear energy. Therefore, they can deliver better performance, with minimal effort and everyone, including the children are happy… and so their world changes, and as a result, so does the world of humans.
Have a great day, and please smile… they spread and become infectious.

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