Just Wired That Way

Paul Heagen Authenticity and Vulnerability Leave a Comment

Are you fearless?

Are you delusional?

It’s the same question.

We don’t always like to include fear in our discussions about leadership, but to deny its presence is to deny the essential, protective place it hold in the human condition. When you accept fear as one of several innate emotions – joy, sadness, fright, panic, anger – you see where we can go wrong in pretending we have no fear or that fear never rises up to hijack our thinking.

What am I afraid of?

It’s worth asking ourselves that question, on more than just a rhetorical level. Fear is not always so palpable or immediate as encountering the rabid junk yard dog in the alley, but it often juices our thinking – a metaphorical cortisol – in ways we don’t always appreciate.

Contemporary forms are more civil and sedate, but still real – the cash call from the bank, the uncertain market research report, the scrapyard pile of prototype rejects on your new product, the unexpectedly abrasive manner of a newly hired senior executive, a key account being courted by a low-ball competitor. Today we don’t fear that low survival rung of the Maslow chart so much as we fear loss of wealth, reputation, power, prestige, dignity and sense of self-control or self-determination. Our greatest fear is in losing what we value the most, whatever that is.

Fear is a potent fuel. Whether our pride allows us to admit it or not, research shows we respond with more velocity and ferocity to fear than to hope or opportunity. The history of the equity markets bears out that the realized volatility of a bear market (fear) is almost always greater than that of a bull market (greed). We’re wired that way. Stop pretending we’re not.

The way to master fear is not to become fearless. Fearlessness is a gateway drug to recklessness.

It’s courage, which means finding a way to move forward amid our fears. The only sure path through that is to accept the possibility of failure or an outcome uncertain. When we fail, we finally experience what lies behind the fear. More often than not, we discover that our fears are imagined or at least exaggerated. Moreover, our greatest learnings come out of our failures, thus we have to consider fear — at least the kind that rears up to undeserved proportions — as an enemy of growth.

If we are at all resilient, we patch ourselves up, brush ourselves off and go forward realizing our worst fears are hardly ever realized. We’re wired that way, too.

So, what ARE you afraid of?

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