Driven By Fear – Been There? Still There?

Tags: Assessing Performance, Coaching, Leadership, Leadership Worth Sharing Blog, Organizational Culture, Podcasts, Work-Life Balance

When I first started consulting, I admit there was a large part of me that was absolutely driven by fear. Being my primary source of income and the principal income earner for the family, there was “no room for error.”

What if I say something that might offend the person who hired me? What if I make my client do something that they might not agree with? What if I make a mistake and do something they won’t like. What if my clients decide to release me? 

The bottom line is that I went “what if” crazy. The fear of the “what if’s” hurt me more than helped me.

Confronting the “What If” Syndrome

Fast forward a number of years and those “what if’s” around my fears are faint, if not completely obliterated. I learned the hard way that having fear for fear’s sake, especially in the land of “what if’s” was an absolutely unhealthy perspective for me. It stunted my ability to truly consult, to lead, to be truthful and transparent, and ultimately be effective.

It wasn’t until I finally said to myself . . .

“You know what Rubi. What’s the worst that can happen to you? So they fire you for speaking the truth? They fire you for pushing them beyond what they are willing to do? Then worst case, you lose your contract. Then what?  

Well, then you look for another contract Rubi, that’s what! At the very least, you won’t regret speaking the truth, standing for what’s right, and being transparent. When it’s all said and done, when the dust finally settles and you pick yourself back up, you won’t regret what you did in the long run.” 

And you know what? I haven’t looked back ever since that moment. Really. 

Left Unaddressed, “What If’s” Stagnate YOU and YOUR Performance

Folks, living in a state of fear and the ‘what if’s’ that come with it, just plain ‘sucks.’ There’s just no better way to say it.

It will stagnate you. It will cause you to hesitate and second-guess yourself. It will stop you in your tracks. It’s NOT sustainable. What’s worse, it’s exhausting and in some cases, makes your ‘what if’s’ actually come true.

Ultimately, any form of fear is not healthy long term, for you and for the organization you are working for.

Leading by Fear Also Stagnates Employee Performance

Have you ever been part of an organization that operates through fear? Or part of a team where the leader is driven by fear? How did that feel? Motivating or debilitating for you?

Organizations that operate by fear cause their people to be reactionary. It stunts people’s willingness to take risks and disagree, even if they believe things might not be heading in the right direction. Organizational fear suppresses people’s ability to take on full ownership, be change agents, agile and competitive. Leaders who operate by fear create the exact same negative outcomes. Fear constricts. Fear raises anxiety and causes hesitation.

On the flip side, fear also causes aggression and action. To be clear, we all have taken some form of action because of our fears, whatever they may be. So I don’t expect you or myself to be completely free from it. That’s not the point.

That said, it is critical that you – or your organization – do NOT operate solely by fear. It’s not realistic, it’s not healthy and it’s not sustainable. 

Conquering the Root Cause of Fear

So if ‘fear’ is not sustainable, what is? This question is best answered this way: You overcome fear by focusing on what fear isn’t.

Here’s a few examples.

What Fear Is What Fear Isn’t
Debilitating Empowering
Negative Emotion Positive Emotion
Limiting Limitless
Overly Cautious and Skeptical Accepting and Open
Non-Trusting Trusting
Authoritative and More Dictatorial Independent and More Free
Hoarding Giving
Stunting Nurturing
No permission to risk Permission to risk

Addressing Your Own “What Ifs”

So it’s time for some ‘gut checks.’

  1. Ask Yourself as a Person. . . How well are you doing living a life without fear? Do you feel like a person without limits and full of abundance? What could you start doing to ‘unleash the best’ in yourself? Where are your biggest fears and what can you start doing to ‘chip away’ at them.
  1. Ask Yourself, as a Leader . . . If you are a leader, are you leading by fear, or more from the angle of what fear isn’t? How do you know? It’s simple, if you are leading by what fear isn’t, your people are openly communicating to you, pushing back and challenging you, and taking full ownership of their responsibilities. If not, then the polar opposite is happening.
  1. Ask About Your Organization . . . Are you part of a ‘fear based’ organization, or one where fear doesn’t exist? Asked differently, how free do you feel in your organization? Do you feel more constricted or are you part of an organization that allows you to ‘spread your wings’ and push to new heights? Re-visit the above areas if you need to be reminded of what I’m talking about.

To be clear, I’m NOT here to judge. I have no right to throw rocks at anyone. Fear exists in some way shape or form in all organizations, regardless of how perfect your organization might appear to be.

The challenge for all of us however, is to make sure that fear is not the primary mode of operation. It’s on all of us to change that tune.  

Your Leadership Challenge  

For You: Choose to live a life without limits and control your fears by confronting them.

If you have direct reports: Free your reports by finding out what fears they might have around how you lead and have the courage to do the opposite, calibrate and maintain.

If you lead an organization: Are you getting the results you want from your people? Are they pushing the envelope and healthily challenging you to be better, for the company to be better? Do you encourage calculated risk-taking? Create an environment that feels both safe, empowering and rewarding.  

I’m Here to Help You Own It

Privately send me your challenges, questions and comments. I can’t guarantee I’ll have all the answers, but I will be candid, truthful and genuine.   All of us can inspire, lead and achieve and drive higher performance and organizational health if we simply work at it.


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