What kind of leadership do we need now? According to Stew Friedman on Harvard Business Publishing: Adaptive, flexible, and innovative. He sums up the core leadership ability as "playful creativity." (click title of this post to read entire article)
I was struck by his comment that "more than ever in my experience, people are feeling a need for greater control." His solution to this is believing "in your own power to generate new ways of getting things done" and you'll be "less likely to succumb to the stomach-churning anxieties that come from not knowing how you'll deal with whatever obstacle that's next to be thrown in your path."
In other words, have faith in your own abilities to handle whatever comes along and you won't be so afraid. Or, understand that you have control over yourself even if you have no control over other people or events. I get to choose how I respond to a situation. If I choose to go with the flow - and by the way, have a sense of humor throughout - I will be more able to handle the unexpected. If I expect the unexpected, I'll be prepared for just about anything.
Jon Gordon, another writer on leadership, calls for leaders to recognize that today there often is "a void of clear and positive communication" which most people fill with fear. He proposes Five Positive Leadership Strategies. He goes on to say "I’ve realized that great leadership is first and foremost a transfer of belief...Positive leaders share their belief, optimism, vision, purpose and plan with their organization..."
In other words, help others believe that the future is not a frightening prospect. As Gordon says, a vital first step is sharing information about the present, the current situation. Knowing what is happening NOW allows people to breathe and feel more secure in the present. When my feet are firmly on the ground, I can look around and down the road. Even if I don't know what's coming, I at least know where I am right now. Even if it's bad news, at least I know it. It's no longer the "scary unknown" I don't want to find out. It's the known world. Knowing where I am also makes it easier for me to navigate further, to figure out where I want to go, and then establish a direction, a map.
My new acronym for FEAR is Faithless Ego Anticipates Ruin. In these posts, I see how leadership can provide an excellent antidote to fear.
One of the key messages of these two blogs is that leaders are the ones who have faith. Faith in themselves, faith in their followers, faith in the future, faith in their ability to handle whatever comes, faith in positive outcomes, faith in the power of sharing information and including people in the process of planning for and working toward the future.
Ego refers to me, all alone. It is the antithesis of leadership, in my opinion and experience. Being a leader means recognizing that I do not function alone. By definition, a leader is not alone because we have people who follow us. When I believe that I am working WITH others, that I do not have to handle any situation alone, it is very difficult to be afraid.
Anticipating, or projecting, is usually a bad thing for me and most humans to do when confronted with uncertainty. I have no idea what will happen in the next moment, next day or week or year. So let me not go there before time. So I've trained myself to stop projecting into the future, and instead to stay in the moment. All is just fine in this moment. My job as a leader is to communicate enough about the present to reassure my team that I am there, I am looking out for them, I am capable and knowledgeable, and I will be with them and help them throughout whatever comes next.
Ruin - yes, horrible disasters. Hunger, homelessness, friendless, jobless, helpless. Left to my own devices, I rarely anticipate wonderful outcomes. That's true of most people, I've found. I just can't go there. It's like my own private horror movie - I scare myself with stories of the awful future. It could just as easily be a great future. The powerful shift I made as a leader was to envision a great future, share that vision, ask people to embellish it with me, and help them understand their own role in bringing that vision about. We co-owned the vision and became committed to working together toward it. There is no room for "ruin" when we fill our eyes and minds and hearts with a powerful vision.
So the opposite of fear is having faith, being with others, staying in the now, and expecting a positive outcome. And of course, there is no room for fear when we are laughing together.