Ten years ago, I bought my first pair of cross-country skis.
I’ll never forget my first time out. I was both excited to learn and a little fearful: What if I fell? What if I hurt myself? What if I wasn’t very good? What if I looked like an idiot? Yet, the prospect of learning to gracefully glide across the beautiful Colorado snow was alluring.
This experience reminded me of the relationship between fear and excitement. It is helpful to think about fear on one side of a continuum and excitement on the other. The question then becomes: How do you (or how do you help someone) move away from fear and toward excitement?
Fear is one of the greatest barriers to action. In their book “The Knowing-Doing Gap,” Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton write that leaders must drive out fear so that people are free to act. It is one of their most important tasks, because if there is fear, performance suffers. Fear keeps people from taking risks, it keeps them from learning and it keeps them from taking action.
Have you ever thought about a member of your team, “I’ve told them what to do. Why aren’t they doing it?” Chances are that there is an element of fear keeping them stuck.
There are many things a leader can do to drive out fear, just as there are many causes of fear within a team or organization. Here are six:
1. Connect to Their Values, Purpose and Passion
When someone is pursuing something that is meaningful to him or her, you can use it as a motivator. Often, our purpose is greater to us than our fear.
2. Connect to Their Ideal Self or Future Vision
Richard Boyatzis, Ph.D., (author of “Primal Leadership,” “Resonant Leadership” and hundreds of research articles) has proven that the ideal self — the future vision of who we want to become — is a driving force behind change. It helps us achieve change and sustain it. Helping your team members shape a shared future vision can serve the same purpose.
3. Use Curiosity
Help team members explore the continuum for themselves: What do they find fearful, and what do they find exciting? Once you identify the excitement, find ways to help them tap into it.
4. Find Confidence in Their Courage
Help team members think about times in the past when they have faced a fear or a challenging situation. What did they do to succeed? What can they take from that experience that they can use in the present situation?
5. Build Small Wins to Create Momentum
Especially with large tasks, break them down into small steps to create a sense of accomplishment. It is important to help your team members celebrate the process and the steps they take toward their goal.
6. Instill Pride in Taking Action
Finally, when all is said and done, celebrate the actions your team members took in order to reach their goal. Research shows that celebrating the process that leads to success, rather than celebrating only the accomplishment, helps reinforce desired actions. It can also help build confidence for the future.
Finally, as a leader, you will encounter times when you will be surprised by someone else’s fear. It may not make any sense to you, but that doesn’t make it any less real for the person who is experiencing it. Simply telling them that they shouldn’t feel fear is a useless exercise and one that will merely frustrate you and the other person.