I must admit that the question took me by surprise, so I gave myself some time by asking her why she was asking that question. Apparently she asks this question of a lot of people and, as she told me, most people answer in the same way and she was wondering if I had a different answer than others. I proceeded to share my thoughts, which led to a longer discussion of the paradox of leadership fears and, of course, the conversation went on from there.
So this morning has me thinking about the fears leaders face and how they use those fears to improve their organizations and their own personal leadership (as fate would have it, last night I ran across the November 2016 Harvard Business Review which is entitled "What Really Keeps CEOs Awake at Night"). This morning's blog is a list of possible things that leaders may fear most...and why those fears are important to a leader's development.
- the fear of failure...while I do not believe this is the most important fear (nor the most relevant), it is a fear that keeps leaders focused on some very important metrics and ideas
- the fear of success...if the organization is successful beyond its wildest dreams, will the leader be able to respond in a way that can truly build on that success
- the fear of being found out...I cannot take credit for naming this fear, but many leaders are afraid that others will find out that the leader is not the smartest person in the room (which is the way it actually should be)
- the fear of not being relevant...just when leaders believe that their organization is well known and important within the marketplace, it becomes crystal clear that not everyone knows the organization, much less believes in the organization and its promise. Building the brand should be on every leader's mind all the time
- the fear of losing the best people...most people are replaceable - and others are not. Taking care of the very best people in the organization has to be one of the leader's top priorities
- the fear of a disaster...whether natural or not (fire or firestorm), it only takes one disaster to cripple an organization. Being prepared for the worst is a good trait for leaders to have
- the fear of someone doing something stupid (or illegal)...similar to above, these type of mistakes can have a devastating effect on the organization. Policies, guidelines, and values can help mitigate some of the stupid (illegal) things that others might do
- the fear of putting the organization at risk...any long term decision and/or expenditure has the chance to hurt one's organization over time. Demanding multiple options and getting all the facts before making a decision can help navigate these issues
- the fear of not being afraid...I saved this one for last, because this may be the most important fear of all. For many leaders, when things are humming along and all seems well with the world, hubris can easily take over as the dominant character trait. Leaders who begin to believe their own press...leaders who are no longer afraid of their own mistakes...leaders who act as if they are the golden child of the organization - these are the people who put the organization at the most risk. My advice for leaders is "be afraid...be very afraid!"
Take a few moments today to determine what it is that you fear most...and then embrace that fear as a way to move your leadership - and your organization - forward.