Fear gets a bad rap. There are plenty of rational reasons for it: It kept your caveman ancestors from being eaten by tigers, and it keeps you from going on a hiring spree in the teeth of a potential recession. Given the current world situation, if you’re not at least a little bit afraid right now, there’s probably something wrong with you.
But in a fascinating weekend read for Chief Executive, executive coaches John Baird and Edward Sullivan write that while it is healthy and useful for leaders—and organizations—to have a productive level of fear, less-rational, deeper fears are a common cause of many failures. Understanding these three “fear archetypes,” then tackling them is essential if you want to grow as a leader. So, here’s a pop quiz: Which kind of scared are you?
- The Perfectionist. Biggest fear: Getting it wrong. Fearful that if she doesn’t take time to get things right, she will pay for it down the line. So afraid of getting things wrong, she would freeze in indecision and never get anything across the finish line on time. These leaders fail to take responsibility for decisions and avoid making the tough calls. Perfectionists hide their fear and insecurity behind a veil of nitpicking, scrutiny and criticism.
- The People Pleaser: Characterized by a habitual flight response to fear. This doesn’t necessarily mean he literally flees the room whenever he feels fear or anxiety, but he does his best to flee the moment, doing everything possible to keep everyone happy, change the subject and avoid tension or conflict. Ironically, efforts to avoid open conflict only cause more of it behind the scenes. Because decisions are not made, team members engage in political maneuvering to advance their positions, often with mounting resentment.
- The Imposter: Extremely common among entrepreneurs, especially first-time CEOs, no matter their race, gender or socioeconomic background. “Some freeze. Some flee. But in our experience, the impostor archetype among leaders often shows up as fight fear response, like they are trying to hide their fear of incompetency with antagonistic and controlling behavior.”
If you see yourself in there (and don’t worry, no one is keeping score), you’re hardly alone. All of us suffer from these fears from time to time in our lives and careers. What to do about it? Baird and Sullivan have a simple framework—which they share in the post—that involves facing and embracing your fears, sharing them with others on the team, making a plan of action and telling your story. It’s simple, pragmatic and, yes, it takes a bit of courage. But they say it is well worth it.
“When you stop to ask what fear may be motivating someone’s behavior, you can sometimes diffuse it,” they write. “Fear can be a scary place to go, but we find that leaders who go there are more likely to make more lasting changes.” And get back to all the other, more productive kinds of fear. Have a good weekend. Read the full article >