As our world and nation continues to struggle with the impact of COVID-19, I’ve found myself reflecting on historical crises. I’m imagining what life must have been like for previous generations as they faced war, famine, economic depressions, and yes, pandemics. Like many, I have a renewed appreciation for modern healthcare and the heroes that are fighting for us day in and day out. I am relishing the blessings in life such as more time with my family and technology that enables meaningful connection to the outside world.
This reflection has also given me a deeper appreciation for some of the seemingly ‘odd’ behaviors of my late grandparents. Without fail, they planted gardens that produced a basement full of canned goods (yes, even gooseberries and beets), hoarded leftovers if only a morsel, reused every possible scrap of durable goods, and on and on. I admire them for maintaining prudence long after they achieved comfortable wages, and for the way they intrinsically valued the things that money can’t buy – health, loved ones, quality time.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous quote from the era that defined my grandparents’ childhood rings truer than ever, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” It certainly rings relevant today given the COVID-19 crisis.
We know that fear shapes behavior. In a recent publication, Psychology Today outlines four common responses to fear: flight, fight, freeze, or fright. While certain levels of fear propel action in a variety of productive ways, overwhelming fear that lasts for an extended period of time disables v. enables productivity. For example, people may obsess, ruminate, complain, but ultimately take very little action.
While fear is certainly affecting behaviors today given the crisis and rightly so, there are also highly relevant applications of understanding the implications of fear in our day to day business operations and team effectiveness.
In my experience with leading and belonging to a variety of teams over the years, I have found that one of the most toxic issues for a team is fear. For individuals, this could look like a fear of career limiting failures such as not achieving their annual plan in back to back years or receiving tough feedback from superiors. They may wonder, in a highly pressurized and competitive environment, if they are smart enough, articulate enough, experienced enough, extroverted enough, or analytical enough.
In Northwest Arkansas, our businesses are big and meaningful. All stakes are high stakes. Our community is talented. And sometimes even the best among us struggle with fear of career limiting failure, which can result in playing it safe v. taking bold risks.
As Plato wisely stated, “Courage is knowing what not to fear.” In an uncertain world, with a major crisis facing us, it is understandable that individuals have some element of fear. Do they also have unnecessary fear at work?
As business leaders, we can do our part to reduce any question or tension of fear in our organizations. If our teams know that we have their backs, that we fail together, that pressure is shared, that they can be their authentic selves without fear of reprisal, that we care less about their failures and more about what they learn, that even if worst case scenario happens to their families or jobs, that we have their best interests in mind at all times. Reducing unnecessary fear is how we will turn crises into opportunities to care for each other, serve our organizations and communities, and find good amidst the worst of times.
* Sales Director, Walmart – Unilever
*Title and company of the author reflect their position at the time article was written.
The opinions expressed here by guest bloggers are their own, not necessarily those of Stout Executive Search.