A word can do so much. It can beautify, improve, develop, restore, uplift, encourage, affirm and connect one person to another. A word can do so much “good.” Now there’s a word!
In his first inaugural speech, Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a nation mired in the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. The economic outlook was more than bleak. Anyone who has seen the old movie or read Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath has some idea of the feeling of desperation that must have permeated the country. Our “Great Recession” seems far less formidable. FDR is a leader that did not adopt a “ride it out” or “hope for the best” position. He lead with vision and decisiveness. He identified and called out the main enemy of the crisis and met him in a rallying motivational speech to a paralyzed, troubled nation. He joined with his people in creating and executing solutions.
This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. FDR, March 4, 1933. (View entire speech at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MX_v0zxM23Q)
To be a leader you must have a clear and solemn understanding of your own fears and how others react to their own fears. Leadership is walking toward fearful obsticles and overcoming them with a plan of action that is both courageous and thoughtful. A true leader then motivates people to do what they never believed they could do.
What keeps a leader from leading is fear itself. She fears failing, being laughed at, hurt, ignored or marginalized. His fear is an insurmountable barrier to creativity. Fear will stop her from developing fantastic ideas let alone bringing them to the board room or manager’s meeting. Fear of rejection will prevent him from seeing things as they are, speaking her mind, or attempting the daring or weird solution necessary.
This is the day you can make a difference. Look at one problem, project or idea that is in front of you. Big or small, embedded in that project are a number of mind numbing, action killing fears. Find them and write them down.
Writing down your fears is first step to overcoming them. If you write down your fear you own it, it doesn’t own you.
Understand that this fear is in you. It is not external. The situation is not fear. The fear is your self preserving “lizard brain” (see Seth Godin in Linchpin) that stops you from finding solutions to those objective, external challenges.
You will not die from trying something new. It will feel like you are sure to be seriously injured. Your self protective systems will try to shield you from pain of judgment and criticism. Fear will attempt to paralyze you. Fearing you won’t be heard, you won’t speak. Fearing you won’t win you won’t compete. Fearing you won’t succeed you will hold back from giving it everything you have.
If you do not conquer your fears, you will do one of two things. You will shrink back in line, do only what you are told and quit on your project (become a bureaucrat worthy of being ignored). Or you will become a tyrant, dominating your landscape through blaming, intimidation and manipulation inciting the fears of the people around you. Neither is leadership. Both are rooted in “fear itself.”
Leaders recognize and conquer their fears. They write down and own their fears. They see fear as a path to success and work on their fear then the problems that were inflated or masked by fear. They ignore their self protective over reactions. They face down fear and design solutions.
Once free from their own fears, leaders lead. They motivate a group of capable people to find, speak and work from their own fear conquered creativity. The group works together to improve plans, take risks and execute their collective genius. Not every project succeeds, but the leader does not despair. She learns and tries again because the only thing this kind of leader has to fear is success itself.
The time will come when people will travel in stages moved by steam engines from one city to another, almost as fast as birds can fly, 15 or 20 miles an hour…. A carriage will start from Washington in the morning, the passengers will breakfast at Baltimore, dine at Philadelphia, and sup in New York the same day…. Engines will drive boats 10 or 12 miles an hour, and there will be hundreds of steamers running on the Mississippi, as predicted years ago. — Oliver Evans, 1800.
You are remarkable you want to do remarkable things. Especially if you are an executive, manager or business owner, you know you are remarkable. The ideas you have could change the world or perhaps your small part of the world. If executed, your remarkable ideas could improve the lives of many people. When you are creative and hatching ideas, you are experiencing your remarkable self at work. You hope to be unique and brilliant. You strive to find solutions that nobody else can see.
So where are your remarkable solutions, products or relationships? Average executives deliver a small fraction of their brilliance. If you are remarkable then why haven’t you changed the world? How frustrating! Perhaps it starts with a certain discomfort with “feeling” remarkable. It may be true but there is a tremendous self doubt about your ability to actually succeed.
The measure most use to prove their brilliance is the approval of others. Most executives and business owners think they must get “them,” whoever “they” are, to confirm that they are remarkable. Until “they” approve the project you will not believe you are remarkable.
Worry plagues executives. You worry if “they are impressed” or if they even notice. You look over your shoulder. You question yourself. You second guess. You fear criticism. You over-manage. You under-manage. You compromise your brilliance because you know that to be remarkable means you have to confront your fears and take risks.
The alternative to accomplishing remarkable things is to hide in the status quo. Feelings of disappointment drive you to “prove” your right to your position by falling in line, stacking up favorable reviews marked with “have met or exceeded expectations” securing another review period of security within your profession. You don’t make waves and continue to work within the parameters of your job description so you can live to work another day. You subjugate your remarkable ideas to the pressures making waves would create. You stay in your seat and do what you are told. You have proven that you can follow the rules but you have done nothing remarkable.
The status quo frustrates your brilliance. You have great ideas. You can change the world. But your fears stop you. You feel it is impossible to “prove” that you are brilliant. You must make them see how remarkable you are before you will believe it yourself. That will simply not work. There is no practical benefit to attempting to prove to others how remarkable or important you are by getting your audience to agree with you. That is manipulation not brilliance.
You, like most people, do just that. You don’t make your move because “they” might criticize your remarkable idea. An epic emotional conflict is fought inside you every day. Your brilliance fights your fear of failure. You lose your epic emotional conflict and euthanize your idea and bury your creativity.
Most of your brilliant ideas go down the bathtub drain, are left in bed, shower stall, gym or car where they hatched. They never find a notepad, mind map or conversation. Remarkable ideas begin to take shape when you write them down or share them with someone else. Brilliance does not shine when you put it in a closet. It must have free open space to spread and grow and become useful.
You bury your ideas because they present a threat. If you give them room, they will grow and take on lives of their own. You will eventually have to share the ideas with “them.” If “they” see your idea they might try to kill it with a laugh, snicker or worst of all die the death when “they” ignore or neglect what you have nurtured into existence. Criticism hurts. You would rather not hurt so you bury your ideas.
Who are “they” anyway?
“They” might have names, but most of “them” are anonymous. “They” have no address. “They” were not hired to keep you accountable or to keep your ideas in check. “They” aren’t even real.
“They” are really the voices in your own head. The negative fearful voices you hear when considering a brilliant idea are really your own fears. Your fears disguise themselves as others’ voices. Your fears stop you because you perceive danger if you step step outside the status quo. Your fear says (in “their” voice) that “you will make a fool of yourself” or “you will fail” or “it will hurt if you try.”. Your fear wants you believe you have no choice but to flush the idea and just do what you are told.
Occasionally you will fight through your fear of failure and put your idea on the drawing board. You write it down. You share it with a friend. You the nagging voices until you nurture your project to the prototype stage. Then a new fearful panic hits you like a tidal wave.
This time the voices will scream that there is extreme danger. They will plead with you to pull the plug on a project prematurely, stop the launch of a new product, see obstacles as insurmountable, paralyze you from executing efficiently, effectively or courageously. Your remarkable plans are stillborn or linger on indecisive life support because your fears make you second guess and not allow you to put your full faith and effort into the project. All engines stop at its most vulnerable stage. Your fears try to convince you that it is too dangerous to proceed.
You may be one of the few who presses through and develops the prototype. Your voices introduce an even more sinister kind of fear. The voices subtly whisper, “Success is even more dangerous than failure.”
Seth Godin suggests in his book, Linchpin, that you may fear success because after you have succeeded once, you must “succeed again.” You hear “them” saying you are a “one win wonder.” You worry that you will not be able to keep up your image as a “champion.” Your fears warn you that the fall from the pedestal is exceedingly more painful than the fall from the ground. Climbing higher is way too risky.
If you push through the fear of success you will finally see your idea in full production. You have exercised your remarkable brilliance. You have succeeded in conquering your fear. You got your idea to the drafting table. You ignored the voices to enter the development process. You believed in spite of the others’ criticism and built a prototype. You went for broke and put the idea into full production where all could see and you saw it to the end.
What if it did not meet market projections? What if it was a financial loss? What if the customer did not buy it? Does that mean you are not remarkable?
No — a thousand times no. You are remarkable and brilliant. There are a thousand reasons why it may have not been approved by others or been successful in the market place. But you did not fail. Your project failed. If you continue to apply your brilliance and produce remarkable solutions to whatever ails the project it can still make a difference and help people. The alternative is that your brilliance can realize there is a better place to expend your energy. It is simple better to focus your effort into the next remarkable project hatched not so long ago in the shower. You continue to change the world because you are a remarkable executive.