Fears may keep you safe, but they can keep you small. In our work, we have found most people rest in comfort zones that we call growth plateaus. These comfort zones define their current level of confidence, potential, and capabilities, which produce positive results. At the end of each comfort zone is an unimagined fear keeping future possibilities in check. Consequently, leaders must see, own, and live with their personal fears in order to grow.
But how do you "see" what you can't see? Looking for your fears and admitting to them is big step. It requires a person to challenge who they are and change how they see themselves. Everyone has fears. The fears we can't see or won't see are placed in a special place in our personality that we learn to live with. We create personal workarounds to compensate for our fears and we learn to cope with ourselves. For example, if someone is afraid of heights they avoid tall buildings.
The same things happens in leadership development, however, most fears are subtle and more easily hidden. For example, leaders who don't like confrontation may become enablers of average performance or act indecisive. The fear they hold is confrontation with other people, so they create a friendly environment to avoid friction, which has a consequence. In every situation the choices that you make have consequences. To see your fears, one should look to their pattern of results. What situations occur that are unsatisfactory in your life? Owning the results in those situations allows you to see the patterns which empowers you to pinpoint and own your fears.
To truly see your fears, you must own your results and your choices. If a project didn't meet expectations, a person has to find where they caused the problem and look to why they didn't think or act differently.
- Did you think it wasn't your place? (I didn't want to ask; I didn't want to rock the boat or be a bother.)
- Did you think it was someone else's job? (I wasn't sure what to do but I didn't know whom to ask.)
- Did you know what to do? (I didn't what to look dumb.)
These are real life examples of little fears that can cause big problems. You have to see and own your little fears so you can make small adjustments that will alter your choices and results.
Courage is not the lack of fear; courage is living with your fears on a daily basis. Don't pretend you're not worried- spend your precious time acknowledging your humanity and find people who will help you leverage your strengths and can compensate for your fears. This is how leaders grow. Leaders confidently understand their strengths and fears. They see, be, do and cause extraordinary results given that they own who they are in any situation.
Owing your fears creates opportunities personal growth and new results. A sign of growth is when you can think in terms of the "and" rather than the "or". For example, a leader who is uncomfortable with conflict might think - I could talk to John and create a debate "or " I could see what happens so I won't cause a problem with John.” If this leader could live with the conflict, a different conversation would be, “I am going to talk to John even though there will be a debate so we can sort out the issue.” This is a different leadership conversation caused by the leaders ability to live with the potential for conflict.
To grow out of your current comfort zone, leaders must seek their unspoken fears, own their fears, and find ways to be with these fears on a daily basis. Overtime, the worry of your fears will dissipate and will be replaced with the confidence earned by personal awareness.
By Mike Nally