Fear in the workplace is insidious. It infects individuals, then teams, and eventually puts company culture at risk. But you shouldn’t confuse fear with anxiety: Anxiety is felt on the heels of a professional challenge or with an opportunity that carries risk, and is often a personal growth opportunity. Fear is not.
Through my previous role as a leader at a Fortune 500 company, and in my current role building a startup from scratch to eight figures in annual revenue, I’ve seen many forms of fear in the workplace. Trust me, none of them are healthy, no matter how we try to spin it.
As a leader, it is your responsibility to remove fear from your workplace. Firstly, you need to accept that fear exists. Once you’ve accepted its existence, you can begin to mitigate it. To start off, identify some examples by looking out for these behaviors:
- Someone chooses not to give important feedback to another person (fear of an “explosion” from the recipient or retaliation)
- People don’t share their ideas in group settings (fear of humiliation or wasted effort)
- Someone fears the addition of a new team member (fear of replacement or change)
- People don’t take risks (fear of punishment or failure)
- Someone doesn’t put their best foot forward in their job function (fear of failure or lack of support)
Several more examples exist; these are simply a few of the most common. Often, we trap ourselves by explaining that these are “just the way things are” or are “challenges that a great employee should overcome.” We attempt to justify their existence when we should instead acknowledge them, then stomp them out.
Adam Roozen is a former developer, marketer, and program manager and continues to be a successful business builder and leader. With roots in small-town southern Minnesota, he gained his corporate chops at the Wal-Mart Home Office, leading marketing and operations for SamsClub.com. He is currently CEO at a leading e-commerce agency, Echidna, Inc.
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