Fear is the new pandemic: seven strategies to lead with success during change and uncertainty

When you learn how to lead from love and not fear, and you will achieve outstanding leadership, says Sarah Higgins

Outstanding leadership is threatened everyday by one thing.

You can’t see it, but you can feel it.

You are surrounded by it, but some question whether it even exists, as it’s linked to your imagination.

You probably fear it more than anything, and we’re taught from a young age to hide it.

We often avoid it, but the best thing to do is to face it.

What is it?…

Fear.

In this situation, we’re not talking about fear of spiders, snakes or flying. Instead, we are talking about is everyday fear – our thoughts, feelings, and emotions which we all have based upon fear. You will see these in yourself and in others in the following ways: frustration and anger, fear of conflict, fear of embarrassment, fear of rejection, fear of looking silly, avoiding making decisions, procrastination, fear of failure, not speaking up, avoiding risks, worry, doubt and feeling anxious, fear of missing out; fear of the unknown, uncertainty and being out of our comfort zone, fear of being judged and feeling vulnerable.

These are normal human reactions to what our brain may perceive to be potential threats. However, our brain reacts to potential threats in the same way as actual threat, therefore our bodies are reacting in a fight and flight stress-based reaction to things we don’t need to. For example, the email just received from your boss makes you think they’re angry with you, but they’re feeling immense internal stress and frustration about their work and it wasn’t aimed at you.

But, we react with anger or worry, shame or doubt before we know what the reality of the situation is. We mind-read and catastrophise far more times than we need to and this puts unnecessary strain on ourselves as well as altering the behaviours that others see.

As leaders, this is when others can see us as overly controlling, annoyed or irritated, defensive, demotivated, quiet or aloof or emotionally disconnected. Unintended behaviours of leaders, when they are experiencing pressure or stress, or simply not managing themselves in the way they would normally, destroy trust, diminish creativity, deplete motivation, lower health and well-being, reduce efficiency and effectiveness and erode resilience.

Fear is the new pandemic because it spreads faster than anything else. We feed off others’ fears as well as our own and given the challenges of constant change, remote working and organisational pressures to do more with less; leaders must understand how fear impacts their own leadership as well as their teams and organisational cultures to thrive and remain competitive.

Fear is our natural human instinct, to protect us from danger and to prolong the survival of the human species. It is instinctive to feel fear and the emotions that come from it, and it is helpful in circumstances where we need to react quickly to real danger. However, day to day, most of us aren’t facing actual danger, it is often imagined. Our fears are often misguided, and we behave in ways which are not going to be the most helpful for us or the people we work with.

Fear gets in the way of us all being at our best. But there is one thing that we can use to overcome it.

What is it?…

Love.

Love based leadership strategies are the antidote to fear that exists within your leadership and organisation.

We can counter less helpful effects of our everyday fears as leaders by focusing on the strategies based upon love and not fear. In this situation, we’re not talking about romantic love, but care, trust and empathy.

We can change, by listening to and embracing our fears. In other words, to use fear as fuel to address what bothers, frustrates and scares us. This is often what we are taught to avoid as leaders. We are taught to bury our issues, to hide our weaknesses and to act as if we know everything and can achieve anything. But no matter what, you are still only human.  

To minimise the pandemic of fear, our leadership vaccine is self-awareness. Once you can be open about your strengths and weaknesses, your fears and concerns, you can then use the seven most powerful leadership strategies: humility, enthusiasm, compassion (empathy), hope, forgiveness, gratitude and learning.

In my book, Power of Love Leadership®, I have written about how you can lead yourself and others using these seven strategies. They minimise fear-based barriers that hold you and your team back, so you can lead from the heart and build resilience in your team.

Here are the seven leadership strategies and how you can use them:

1Humility – practice being more comfortable with your vulnerability. Have the courage to say when you’re not okay. Find out about your strengths and your weaknesses and share them with your team. Conduct a team exercise where you all share your strengths and weaknesses with each other.  

2Enthusiasm – it takes seven times more positivity to outweigh one negative thought, so remind yourself and others of the potential positives as much as possible. Your enthusiasm as a leader will be far more infectious with others and indeed yourself than you will realise. Make sure you focus on what could go right, as well as what could go wrong.  

3Compassion – compassion for others starts with being kinder to yourself. Resilience is not about how much you can do non-stop for the longest amount of time, with no time for yourself to rest and recharge. Also, when we get busy and focus on the task, we can forget to show our empathy for others. Invest time in asking how your team feels – really.

4Hope – make regular time for reflection and be clear on your own and your team’s vision. Involve your team, ask for their views. Where they want to be, where they are now and what barriers might need to be overcome? When they understand how their role adds value it will also increase engagement by enhancing their feeling of purpose. 

5Forgiveness – where does fear exist in your leadership, your team and your organisation? It often lurks within teams in the form of blame, which is formed from misunderstanding and a lack of empathy with others. Promote acceptance and collaboration, leading to resolution instead of blame. Understand others, learn from each other, then forgive and move on.  

6Gratitude – saying a specific and personalised ‘thank you’ to others has been found to be an incredible motivator as well as a reinforcement, but we often forget to do this when we’re busy leaders. As well as looking for what’s gone wrong, celebrate the successes too. Who and what do you really value at work and make sure to appreciate them as much as possible.

7Learning – we often feel pressured to get things done quickly and to make sure our teams are getting things done, so we often tell more than we coach. However, coaching add much more long-term value than telling. Promote a culture of learning from mistakes rather than fear of mistakes which will build resilience, creativity and motivation to try and not avoid.

Sarah Higgins is a highly experienced leadership coach, using over 25 years’ experience to bring impactful change to her clients. Author of ‘Power of Love Leadership®’, she enables leaders to improve productivity, morale, creativity and fearlessness by using seven successfully proven strategies. Available on Amazon. Find out more at www.powerofloveleadership.com

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