How To Ensure Your Greatest Fears Come True

After a hectic but fun Saturday morning of speaking on a Lead Change panel and schlepping my son to baseball practice and art lessons, Sebastian and I decided to try out the newish Ethiopian restaurant for lunch.

“Every man, through fear, mugs his aspiration a dozen times a day.”
~ Brendan Francis

The place wasn’t crowded and the engaging owner did the cooking, waiting, and busing himself. The food was amazing. I asked how long he had been in business (a year), and admitted that I had never realized the place was there. We were politely interrupted by a woman asking to see the dessert menu.

“Oh no, we don’t carry desserts. I fear not enough people will want them. Once we really get things going, I’ll feel confident to expand the menu.”

As he came back to our table,Sebastian 8-years old, apparently now my Chief Marketing Officer, offered:

“You know, I think my mommy might really be able to help you with your business (I’m now searching for a menu to duck behind). She knows a lot about leadership and making money. You see she…”

The fantastic chef shared his story: “I’m a really good cook. My friends all told me I should open a restaurant. I’m taking a cautious approach. I know this location is not ideal (it’s really tucked away), but I didn’t want to invest much in location, until I knew for sure it would be a success. I want to attract a crowd, but it’s hard.”

He must have seen me glance around (I’ve never been accused of having a poker face).

“Yeah, I didn’t want to invest too much in decor to start either. Same philosophy. Better to play it safe, it might not work out. Once I have more customers, I’ll make the place more attractive. I have a vision.”

I had already picked up a take-out menu, because I couldn’t imagine convincing my husband this was a great place for romantic dining so I asked, “have you ever considered letting your customers bring their own wine at dinner?” (several really successful BYOBs are within a 5 mile radius) in similar rustic locations.

“Oh no. The insurance would be too much, you know and there’s the fear that a fight could break out.”

Okay, I don’t know about you, but the last fear on my mind when I plan for an evening of romantic ethnic dining (in a Suburban area) is a brawl. His fears were driving his business plan. A coat of paint, some sorbet in the freezer it wouldn’t take much. What was he really afraid of?

When Fear Takes Control

Fear based thinking happens in big business too:

  • “Let’s be like Zappos and truly empower our customer service reps to do what’s right for the customer. BUT if they need to give a credit over ten bucks they need to bring in a supervisor.”
  • “Forbes and Fast Company have great ideas about leadership. Joe has fantastic business results, and everyone wants to work for him, but, his approach is still unconventional for our culture. Not sure he’ll play that well in the board room, better promote the guy that leads like us.”
  • “Sure access to social media at work would help our employees promote our company, BUT what if they say something stupid?”
  • “I have a great idea, but what if my boss hates it? Better to lay low and do what she thinks is best.”

Don’t let fear stop your greatness. We need your creative cooking in our neck of the woods.

The Input Paradox

When you take your leadership seriously, you are on a constant search for input.

“How am I doing?”
“What do you think”
“How did that go?”
“Am I on your short list?”

Before I go any further, let me stop and warn you.

This is one of those “do what I say not as a I do” posts.

I don’t have this handled.

Maybe you wrestle with this too.

Perhaps we can work on it together.

The Trouble With Input

Leading well is edgy.

You will tick people off.

And if you are leading well, you will be on a constant search for how you can lead better.

At any given point you will have just annoyed someone. In fact, at any given time, you may have done something that really made them mad.

And thus the Input Paradox

In an ideal world, when we make our courageous choices, there will be a locker room of support, patting us on the back, yelling.

“HOORAY FOR YOU.”

The truth is, your most courageous moves will likely be made quietly if you are lucky.

More probable, those moves will be made against opposition and naysayers. Your best decisions may be made with very few saying “amen”. In fact, they may be made against such an onslaught of differing views that you begin to question your own motives, values and credibility.

Here’s where it get’s tough.

Should you listen absolutely? perhaps? no way?

In my life, all of those have been the right answers to input received from credible sources.

Good Advice, Kept Warm

Some of the best input I ever received from a senior leader was this:

“I question your stance on X.But Karin, stop thinking about what we all think. That’s just going to make you bat shi_. Keep your head down, do the right thing. Lead courageously, and get results. That’s all that matters. If that’s not enough, that’s too bad.”

I have been carrying that in my heart. It goes a long way.

At the end of the day, you must lead from you.

If you lead to please, and it hurts your heart, something is wrong.

In fact, in might just make you “bat shi_.”

it’s worth a close listen to your heart.

Move and lead from there.

Courage Today and Tomorrow

I’ve been thinking about fear and courage more than I care to these days.

I am watching my mother handle a poorly timed and devastating cancer diagnosis with grace, optimism and courage. We are all scared. We are following her lead. Everything is suddenly put into amazing perspective. We hope, we learn, we get more information, we wish we had more, sometimes we wish we had less.

“Courage is a special kind of knowledge; the knowledge of how to fear what ought to be feared, and how not to fear what ought not to be feared. From this knowledge comes an inner strength that subconsciously inspires us to push on in the face of great difficulty. What can seem impossible is often possible, with courage.”
~David Ben-Gurioun, The First Prime Minister of Israel

Sometimes we feel courageous, sometimes we do not. We are all doing the best we can.

She is an inspiration.

Moms are always teaching.

And meanwhile, we try to go on with our lives and so I go to work, and church, and to my children’s activities. I am now ultra-sensitive to acts of courage and lack thereof.

We all know examples of the human spirit rising in the biggest challenges. I know you also have them in your family.

How can we bring more courage to our daily living and leading?

I have noticed that the stories we have most wanted to tell during this time are those of courage. Stories of supporting the underdog. Stories of taking the controversial view. Stories of when our talk got mixed reviews. Stories of leaving the easy path.

Courage creates lasting stories 

Courage inspires great leadership

Courage inspires great loving

Courage inspires great leading

And so I am inspired to wonder what can be learned from these times of big courage?

What can we do to become more brave right now?

Why do we…

  • listen to those who tell us our dreams are not practical?
  • back down when we know we are right?
  • withhold the most important coaching?
  • tell our boss what we think will please him, instead of what he needs to hear?
  • sacrifice our principles to fit in?
  • implement initiatives we question without asking the right questions?
  • delay starting something we know will make a difference?
  • ???

When the going gets tough, the tough do get going. But when life is more benign, we may back away. We question the effort. We over-value the costs.

How do we get more big courage right now?

Where do you need to be more brave?