So much of what we do in life is born out of love, or fear. The latter never shapes an outcome good for anybody. Perhaps you're already working to overcome your own fears, like a fear of failure, a fear of criticism, or a fear of change.
At a minimum, it's critical that you realize when you're acting from a place of fear as a leader. And as in life, if you are, it never, ever, produces an uplifting, productive outcome.
Here are seven surefire signs that you're (most likely unintentionally) operating from a place of fear--and what to do about it.
1. You highlight consequences instead of accomplishments.
Leading from fear is concern about what won't happen. Leading from confidence is appreciating what did.
Do you thrive in the face of blatant or veiled threats? Highly unlikely. So you can't expect anyone else to either. There's nothing wrong with genuine concern about meeting a deadline or desired result. It's when that concern turns into harping versus helping that trouble arises. Valuing others and celebrating successes to date is far more likely to lead to the desired outcome than repeatedly vocalizing concern about not doing so.
2. You manage upward rather than outward.
The most fearful, self-doubting leaders I've known spent far more time managing up to their bosses rather than leading out into the organization--where their attention and influence were most needed. It was much more about managing impressions versus making a real imprint (on the business and people).
We all have to manage up to a certain extent--it's about balance. Once it becomes about molding impressions of you versus leveraging the chain of command to help/highlight the troops and the mission, the focus is askew.
3. You worry about you rather than remember it's about anything but.
The best leaders know it stopped being about them a long time ago. The clearest sign of a leader operating from fear comes from the blanket of self-preservation that seems to shroud him/her. Employees have an easy time spotting selfish behavior and blame shifting.
If you catch yourself acting in self-interest (something we'll all do at least occasionally), the odds are overwhelming that it's driven by an underlying fear. Defuse the fear, defuse the behavior.
4. You're decidedly indecisive.
Fear of making a wrong decision (and the associated repercussions) comes into play here as does a lack of confidence. As a result, multiple options can linger, timelines stretch, and costs skyrocket. Indecision paralyzes an organization, creates doubt, uncertainty, lack of focus, and even resentment.
To avoid all this, step back and ask yourself the true impact of a wrong decision--quite often it's not the catastrophe we're concocting in our minds. Also consider the risks/costs of indecision, which is likely to be worse than not just making the call.
5. You're overly risk-averse.
Perhaps you're working in a culture of caution versus courage. Surveys I conducted for Find the Fire showed that 75 percent of employees could barely remember their boss encouraging them to take a risk even once in the past year.
To overcome an aversion to risk-taking, get clear on the rules of risk-taking in your organization. What constitutes a good risk? A bad one? What happens if the risk doesn't pan out? Who has to approve the risk to be taken? What resources/support will you get along the way?
Make progress on risk-aversion and you'll experience a virtuous cycle as broadening your horizons further narrows your inhibitions.
6. You clamor for control to fill the unknown.
Fear of the unknown gets filled with activity. Leaders demanding too many multiple paths, too much measurement, too much ass-covering info-gathering. Simultaneously, power is hoarded with far too little delegation/empowerment and far too much information being withheld. Oddly enough, the leader who engages in these behaviors doesn't realize the power they think they're wielding is actually waning. Meanwhile, everyone's energy is drained.
Control comes with choices. Pick a few things to focus on to improve the certainty of the desired outcome and have the self-confidence to know that with good choices good things happen.
7. You tie up too much of your identity in what happens at work.
Work doesn't define you. You define it and the role it plays in helping you live a meaningful life. My work didn't foster real fulfillment for me until I realized this, which took far too long.
When work comes to define too much of us, we tend to seek constant approval as signals of our worth. It's an empty victory at best and elusive and soul-crushing at worst. We fear a lack of approval and end up altering our leadership approach--for the worse.
Leading from fear leads nowhere good. It's a natural, understandable, tendency, but one you can avoid.