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Fostering Fear: Lead Your Team to Break Out of Their Comfort Zone

“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.” You may have an immediate connection to that statement, with your own delinquent “to-do’s” catapulting to the center of your attention. It was entrepreneur, author, and investor Timothy Ferriss who most recently voiced this assertion in his book The 4 Hour Workweek. However, the emphasis of this blog post is not focused on you as a culprit, but instead on you as a leader. Reflect on the statement with your focus on the individuals you have a responsibility to lead and mentor. No matter the situation, many people would agree that it is outside of a comfort zone where the most opportunity to flourish professionally, personally, and financially exists. As leaders, we are responsible for the careers and development of others. That is a significant responsibility, and we owe it to those we lead to help them understand how shedding the cozy blanket of security should become the comfort zone.

Appreciating Apprehension

How can fear become a comfort zone? It begins with cultivating the skill of being comfortable with the uncomfortable. There are many situations in which we experience pain and embrace it, like lifting weights at the gym. The burn within our muscles is not viewed as a negative, but rather that our effort is working. If it is possible for us to feel physical pain and appreciate it for what it is, why can’t that same mindset apply to other areas of pain in our life? Imagine, instead of tackling the things we fear last, we develop an aptitude to flip that fearful feeling and view it as the beneficial burn of a muscle. Instead of dreading it, we jump on the upside of what it means: our effort is working.

Start with an open discussion with those you lead. Help them understand that if you want something in life you have never had, you will likely have to do something you have never done. Additionally, acknowledge that whatever we have identified as what we know we should do, we also have identified as an essential thing to do. If you aren’t afraid of doing something, it generally means you don’t find it very important, or you would have at least some fear. Important work is inextricably linked to valuable responsibilities within a professional setting, and valuable responsibilities are what can cement an individual’s feeling of a high degree of career fulfillment.

Give them permission to flip the script and view pain as a positive. Encourage them not just to survive challenges, but to thrive in them. Inspire change by asking each individual to select a professional situation they fear most, and how they will choose to run towards that fear. Lead by example by going first.

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” – John Maxwell

Understanding the Root

Knowing what needs to be done and understanding what is holding one back from doing it are two different assignments. It might be entirely evident for what the looming task or situation is. What someone may not be able to recognize immediately is why they are feeling the way they do. How can you help those you lead better understand the root cause of fear?

More than likely, it is a fear of failure or a fear of not being good enough. Simply, most paralyzing situations stem from one of those two roots. Reflect on the uncomfortable scenario you envisioned when first reading the opening paragraph of this article. Would you agree that the underlying originating fear is one of those two origins?

When we start listening to the doubts of ourselves and others, the voice in our head becomes a breeding ground for negativity. People will always have an opinion. Understanding that those people are entitled to their thoughts, yet disassociating ourselves from those opinions, is an essential step in moving past any fear of being judged. Remember, it’s not the thing itself, but rather the outcome:

  • You’re not scared of public speaking; you’re scared of being criticized by those you’re speaking to.
  • You’re not afraid of taking on a challenging project; you’re afraid of failing at it.
  • You’re not anxious about a difficult conversation; you’re anxious as to how the other person will choose to respond.
  • You’re not nervous about being vulnerable; you’re nervous about being judged for your vulnerability.
  • You don’t fear success; you fear not being worthy of it.

Teach your team to point themselves in the direction of what is most important to them, rather than being hard on themselves for feeling fear in the first place.

Off the Hook?

Although the focus of this post is around those we lead, we as leaders are not completely off the hook. How do you stay in your comfort zone? What is it you avoid doing as a leader? Difficult conversations, delivering criticism, demonstrating empathy, fostering authentic personal relationships, being fully present? Take time to analyze yourself and be your own constructive critic honestly.

Understand that you might be part of the problem, even if unintentionally. Fear is grounded in fear of judgment, and your team is likely acutely aware that the gavel you hold is what rules the courtroom. Don’t resist letting people run, trip, or fall down because you know they won’t be as good as you. You weren’t always as good as you are now. Distance yourself from the “how” of the work and focus your attention on outputs and results.

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