We sat down with Wes Gipe, a business owner who is now a Business Advisor at Aileron, to talk about how fear shows up in an organization. Wes gave us insight into how leaders can deal with uncertainty in order to be more productive, effective, and resilient throughout their lives.
How Does Fear Show Itself In An Organization?
Within an organization, fear can show up as aggression, anger, paralysis, and even micromanagement. “There is a saying that, ‘People who do not listen are soon surrounded by people who have nothing to say,’ and I think that can come true with leaders who lead with fear,” says Wes.
When a person micromanages, he over-controls a situation because he is fearful of the end result. This can be seen when a leader fixates on ensuring the end result is positive, which is what others perceive as micromanagement. This type of micromanagement hinders an individual’s ability to grow in an organization: “If you’re irreplaceable, you’re un-promotable,” says Wes, pointing out that if you are too controlling with your work, and leading with fear, you will never have the opportunity to be promoted.
Other times leaders cover up their fear with overconfidence. Underneath an outwardly boastful demeanor is often a leader who is insecure. “We see fear showing up this way, and it’s almost never helpful to the organization,” says Wes.
“Fear can be used as a very effective motivator, but it has to be used judiciously,” he adds. For example, Wes had owned his company for 9 years and the organization had never terminated anyone up to that point. “I’d owned the company for 9 years, and never led it a day in my life. So the first time I terminated someone, it was long overdue, and I acted swiftly,” he says—and the action scared people.
In that case, fear was an effective motivator, because it signaled a culture shift that needed to happen, showing that leadership was serious about the decisions and action they were taking.
But from that point forward, Wes and the leaders in the organization did not want fear to be associated with termination. “From that point forward, I did not want it to be a surprise, and particularly not to the one being terminated.”
Here are 3 ways we can deal with fear that is at risk of driving us to either procrastinate or over-control a situation.
1. Verbalize your fears to an advisor or mentor.
“That’s the preferred method: verbalize your fears to someone who can help you rationalize them—someone that you trust, with whom you can be totally you, and you can be totally honest with—because sometimes our fears are irrational. FEAR can stand for False Evidence Appearing Real.”
Having a trusted advisor to help you unpack the truth, without judgment, is one of the most effective ways to sort through what’s real and what’s a story we’ve made up in our head.
In certain situations, leaders can share their fears with their team, whether that be with a superior or with someone they lead. If we acknowledge our fear, often it can help others know more about where we are coming from. When we don’t acknowledge our fear, people can misread us, thinking we are lacking confidence or not sharing all that we know, and are left to fill in the blanks with their own “facts.”
2. Write down your fears.
Sometimes we aren’t in a position where we can talk with a trusted advisor. “Then writing is the next best thing,” says Wes. “Just get it out there; your thoughts will become more when they’re in black and white and in front of you.”
“The worst things that ever happened to me never actually happened,” adds Wes. If we write down our fears, we have a greater ability to recognize that the likelihood of many of those events happening is little to none.
“I went through a phase where I faced a lot of fear in life, in general. Every morning I would get up, and write about what I was afraid of. For me that took the form of prayer—of surrender.” After writing each morning for 5 to 20 minutes, Wes was able to leave the house with greater clarity and peace of mind. “For other people that’s not going to be the same, but for me that was my approach. It was incredibly comforting to just write it down, get it out, and clear my head so I could go on and have a productive day,” he says.
“There’s something magical about transferring fears to paper that causes people to take a fresh look at the situation. You are able to look at the best in it, and identify what you’ve been making up, and what is actually real.”
3. Cast off your fears by leading with purpose.
“When I face fear over doing something I’ve never done before, I try to remember that amateurs built the Ark and professionals built the Titanic. One was built out of purpose and the other pride,” says Wes.
Part of mastering fear is tied to our ability to lead with purpose and conviction.
“It’s generally not the people who are the oldest or the wisest who are the ones that solve great problems—huge societal problems or technology problems or manufacturing problems, as examples. Generally, the people that solve big problems are the ones that are most motivated to solve them,” explains Wes. “And motivation comes from necessity.”
Wes sees this with many of the leaders he works with at Aileron—and that’s part of how they manage their fear. “Great leaders aren’t devoid of fear. Even though we have fear, it’s a matter of mustering the courage to march forward.”
“These are people passionate about a cause, and who are unafraid to go out there and take a position and run after it because there’s a strong conviction underneath all of that. Conviction trumps education or experience any day of the week,” he adds. “At the end of the day, conviction overcomes fear.”
“Fear is not worthy of creating a barrier to achieving your goals.” – Clay Mathile
Don’t let fear hinder or hurt your ability to reach your goals. Take time to explore what drives you—your values: the crucial principles that guide your emotions, your decision-making process, and practically everything else that you do. Lead with your values, and become the best version of yourself by attending the Leading with Your Best Self.