by Stephen Sloan
As successful leaders, we know how to act in the face of fear. We calculate risk and reward and step into ambiguity, risk and constraints every day. But, for many less experienced leaders fear begets inaction while problems fester, disruptors emerge, windows of opportunities close and learning slows. Of course, we don’t allow that happen to us… very often.
No matter how experienced, leaders still feel fear, but what are we actually afraid of?
Might our primary fear be appearing incompetent to our team, peers, and superiors?
If so, then trusty Maslow’s hierarchy gives us some insight into the psychological needs we’re afraid won’t be met. These needs can be met with more, better work, more time invested in relationship building, etc.
Of course, as self-aware leaders, we know that with practice our psychology is consciously mutable and therefore under our creative control.
For most of us on most days, we’re well beyond meeting these core psychological needs. But, what interests me is how impassioned, richly fulfilled, self-actualizing leaders relate to fear? Are they somehow beyond fear?
As I walk this path, it seems that self-actualization requires stepping into even more fear, not less. As I begin to pursue a new business model, I am seeing that a skillfully pursued counterphobic approach to taking creative risks, to exposing our deepest desires, our personal insights, and our riskiest creations to a much wider audience is demanded by the path of self-actualization. Suddenly, I am not only seeking approval for my socially acceptable behavior and admirable accomplishments, but I am turning what I hope is my best possible self inside out and publicly revealing that more essential self.
This entails integrating more of my ethical and aesthetic values into my work; this means writing about the humanities as they relate to leaders rather than continuing to relying on my analytical skills to deliver value to business clients. It means stepping out of well-armored competence and into work that reveals deeper and more personal values and it certainly feels scary and has required new counterphobic actions.
What’s made this easier for me is to look into history to find intelligent leaders who have trod this road before me, people who have pursued personally and professionally risky goals without complete data to base their decisions upon. One I’ve found helpful was the Roman general and emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Based on a bit of wisdom in his Meditations, I’ve created a thinking tool, a Wisdom Jig as I call it, to let me apply his method for stepping into risky endeavors with more confidence and clarity. Click here to find the Stoic Action Planner on my site.