Resilient, motivated and a complex thinker – these were just a few of the qualities listed on the assessment report of an executive I was coaching. Additionally, input from peers added ‘enterprise thinker, strategic leader, decisive, calm in chaos, situationally astute and dedicated’ to the list. Armed with these capabilities, when asked at an initial coaching session about their development and advancement goals, the pause was cavernous.
In a low voice with distant eyes my client whispered… “I’m afraid.”
I was intrigued.
What fears surrounded her many strengths and possibilities?
I’d heard these words voiced before by others with similarly stunning business performance and opportunities. Being afraid of our dreams is human. Our aspirations show up as the dream most desired and the dream most dreaded. The paradox can stem from a lack of reflection, curiosity and courage. When we are willing to spend time understanding our fears, we often find it wears many faces and roles. To move it from saboteur to ally we must look fear in the eye and negotiate our passage. When we want courage more than comfort, we start the conversation – many of which I’ve been honored to participate in as my clients make this passage.
When we face our fear head on; we make it our ally.
So, tell me about fear. After 15 years with the company, through her own lens my client saw herself as the only female in the executive leadership team. She felt her input was minimized by the stronger personalities and lucrative initiatives led by peers and that she’d hit the glass ceiling.
Tell me about the ceiling – what is that? In coaching I’d seen many myths created through the lens of fear. Assumptions become data points that weave a story of what’s so that while it may be fiction, becomes a client’s guiding script. True or not, this script informs and directs the client’s mindset. Coaching offers an outside lens that invites clients to write a new story that ushers in dreams.
In exploration, the client also had other data that added layers to the story’s next chapter: the organization had grown, changed, and progressed. The board had asked for someone with strong operational capability, company background and strategic industry vision to guide the execution of a bold five-year plan. They had asked her to consider the CEO role. She was qualified and invited to lead the company. What story would she chose? What did she really want?
“Most of us can remember a time when we were afraid of sticking our neck out, failure, losing family and friends or being criticized personally in public.”
Fear can fictionalize a future that’s paralyzing and leaves us voiceless and out of touch with our greatness. For some it takes a lifetime to tease reality from fiction. For those who grab it by the throat because they have to or get to – fear can be an ally. When we take it out and look at it, we can negotiate to partner with our fears. When seen, our fears help us see blind spots, garner friends, identify foes and get the resources we need to proceed with our dreams.
In her book On Becoming Fearless … In Love, Work, and Life, Arianna Huffington lays out five strategies to walk through fear (as women) in work. My experience suggests that fear shows up at work regardless of gender. I’ve summarized the strategies offered to help others partner with fear as friend in work. With a few embellishments from my coaching experiences they are:
- Be bold – add heart and humor in how you approach each situation. Show you have both.
- Connect at a personal level with others and don’t take yourself too seriously.
- Be at home in your own skin – know what’s important to you. Recognizing we’re all in the human tribe allows us the freedom to find ‘home’ wherever we are.
- Accept resistance and criticism for what you’re trying to bring. That’s how we get strong.
- Ask for what you want.
- Don’t fear failure. Failure is different than regret. The cost of regret vs. the temporal pain of failure is etched on many tombstones.
This thoughtful, courageous client made her choices. She advanced and filled the shoes her dreams designed. She was never fearless. She made fear a friend along her path to fulfillment.
I hope you do the same. Here’s to making new friends!