Scientists define fear and anxiety very specifically. Fear happens when you encounter a real threat. Anxiety occurs when you worry about a threat you may confront.
As a Leader, you already know better than to intentionally create an atmosphere of fear. Now I’m recommending further that you become acutely aware of how your more subtle actions may cause anxiety, because when the slightest hint of either fear or anxiety presents itself, the amygdala—the little almond-shaped gland deep in the brain that controls emotional responses—doesn’t split hairs. It treats subtle threats as seriously as major ones.
This explains why a war veteran might jump or even run for cover at the sound of a popped balloon. The amygdala acts instantly and without evaluation. It can’t take the time to gauge the intensity of something that feels like a threat, something that reminds it of a past source of real fear. Its job is to protect you from danger. And a vigilant protector it is. When you encounter or approach anything like a threat, it loads you up with defensive hormones.
If the last time you entered your boss’s office, you were berated, fairly or unfairly, then the next time you head there, you will approach with anxiety.
You depend on your job in order to survive, and you know your job depends on your performance. So when your job performance is criticized, especially by your boss, your amygdala kicks you into defense mode.
So it’s natural to react defensively to the following scenarios:
You can’t eliminate fear overnight, but you can get into the habit of confronting your fears. The process begins with finding and mustering the courage to confront the situations and issues causing you fear and anxiety.
In our CoachQuest Leader-as-Coach Workshop we practice three aspects of summoning Courage:
The Courage to Tell, raise difficult issues, or express an unpopular opinion. To do this, you have to first develop confidence in yourself and your value to the organization.
The Courage to Try, endure stressful, painful, or risky situations in pursuit of a goal. This requires leadership development in overcoming your fear of failure by working with well-developed plans.
The Courage to Trust, expose your vulnerabilities, and show your genuine self. The first step is to admit, “I don’t know,” or to ask “Will you help me?” when necessary. Leadership development helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses so you can improve your performance and coaching skills.
Meanwhile, for fun as well as edification, take a look at this music video by Joseph LeDoux, a professor of neural science and psychology at New York University. Based on a poem by Emily Dickinson, it also includes a couple of mini-lectures on fear.
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