Do you find yourself extremely anxious about making a difficult, yet necessary change, for your team or your company? Are you easily stressed over personnel decisions—such as the need to demote or fire a good-natured, but inefficient manager? When leadership issues such as these become wrapped in fear, it can be paralysing for executives and can ultimately lead to dragging profits and corporate stagnation.
If you are an executive who feels this pain, rest assured you are not alone. Fear is the major hurdle for executives today. Sound a bit dramatic? Let’s examine this a bit further. When someone lives in fear of making difficult decisions, nothing gets done. Perhaps an executive is too busy to focus on problems or issues. Perhaps an executive has become friendly with a manager who isn’t complying with critical protocols and, therefore, can’t bring themselves to rein the manager in. Perhaps an executive is terrified of creating a new product or pursuing a new revenue stream, and ends up analysing and researching every angle for failure before making a move. All of this stalls making a decision. Nothing gets done. Nothing changes. Nothing improves.
Fear is insidious. And when an executive lives in fear, it trickles down and slowly paralyses and demotivates entire teams and managers. When this happens, nothing is achievable—as teams, lacking leadership and motivation, slide in productivity, creativity and drive.
For example, one executive of a mid-sized distribution company knew she needed to restructure a team. The manager in charge, whom she liked and had worked with a long time, did not supervise a few reports thoroughly. In fact, this manager had no experience in their jobs and likely felt uncomfortable imposing close supervision. She dreaded telling the manager that he wasn’t equipped to manage these particular employees—as she knew he would be devastated by the news. In the meantime, these reports were not producing well and were resentful of the time the manager spent with reports who held jobs he understood quite well. Instead of restructuring the team and putting the neglected reports under a manager with more experience, she did nothing. In fact, she did nothing for six months.
Doing nothing is a decision, but it’s rarely the right one. The manager continued to neglect the two reports who were not producing. Finally the executive’s boss made the decision for her by restructuring the team. This executive’s indecision resulted in a waste of productivity for the company, dwindling motivation for the team, and a tarnished reputation for its leader.
In my experience as a consultant, the two most common fears of executives today are the fear of making the wrong decision and the fear of having a difficult conversation. Both can lead to disastrous results for the executive and/or the company. Yet there are ways to combat these fears.
With the fear of making the wrong decision, it’s natural to be afraid of “what if’s.” It’s natural to fear risk in a down economy. And in some cutthroat climates, it’s understandable to fear admitting ignorance. We are hardwired for fear. The challenge for today’s innovative and courageous leader is to feel the fear and continue with caution. Sure, it’s great to do research and look at all angles, but don’t let your analysing paralyse you. As a leader, you’re charged with making decisions and following through on them. No team will want to follow someone who doesn’t offer vision and decisiveness.
Secondly, it’s time for the fear of a hard discussion to exit executive corridors. As the example above showed, whether you are a friend of a colleague is beside the point. Of course it’s hard to call out a friend who isn’t producing or following protocols, but straight talk is always the best method. Many executives soften the blow so much that the message gets garbled. Be the one that employees trust to tell it like it is.
Good leaders set expectations and hold people accountable. They also establish a strategic vision and plan for achieving it. Good, honest communication will always be an asset for those you lead.
Are you seeing fear in the executives around you? In yourself? How are they coping? How is their fear affecting others in the workplace?