“I learned courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
– Nelson Mandela
When I work in client sites and there’s an unresolved issue, most people would rather avoid it than address it. Those in leadership are afraid their people will quit. Direct reports fear they’ll be fired. Some worry about losing status with colleagues or upsetting their families. When people do not address issues in a straightforward way, discontent and negative assumptions multiply, and bad feelings infect individuals and teams. What is it that strengthens a person’s resolve to be straight with others and advocate for themselves in caring, firm ways, when fear raises its specter?
Often when people are afraid, and especially when they are not fully aware that they are, they move into a stance of power-over and criticism towards others or power-under and submissiveness towards others, or simply avoid things altogether. It’s fight, flight, or freeze. I remember when I was working with my largest client some years ago, and we were setting up our first pilot culture change project with hundreds of people across multiple facilities, I was distressed that the VP kept asking me to lower my prices. I adored this leader and was very excited by the prospect of this first major proof-of-concept project with her, that if successful, could lead to much more business. And yet, I was feeling afraid and unsure what to do. I didn’t want to blow or abandon what was right for me either.
My purpose is to create a world in which all people love their lives. ‘Create a world’ means ‘create the conditions and conversations’ in which people thrive and feel great! In this situation I realized I was NOT loving MY life. And… I knew this was an opportunity for me to determine how I’d create the conditions and conversations in which I would love my life, all while helping my client do so at the same time. It was this purpose and one of my core values that helped me find a healthy path.
My core value most in support of my purpose was leadership, which I define as operating from power-within, not power-over or power-under. This core value served me when I was afraid I’d pressure my client in a domineering way or passively submit to conditions I did not feel good about. Here’s what leadership led me to do. I went to my client and shared my affection for her. I also shared my compassion for her financial requirements. I shared my concerns about lowering my prices and told her, “I don’t know how to resolve this to a win/win outcome, but I want to. I want you to know what I’m thinking and feeling.” I was vulnerable, trusting in myself and in the strength of the relationship. I committed to being open and straightforward without knowing how to fix things.
Her response was amazing! She said, “Oh my gosh. I’m so grateful you’re telling me this! I am using my entire discretionary budget to make this pilot project as large and visible as possible to show the corporate leaders holding the purse strings that your culture approach works. I want to pay you the rates you deserve as soon as we prove this concept to those needing this proof.” I was so relieved. Not only was she in my corner, she then shared how she planned to go above and beyond to introduce me to other significant leaders inside and outside her organization. What a relief. Most of all, it was a great lesson for me to experience that fear can be alleviated when I remember my purpose and core values. Then I get on track to cause what I do when I’m at my best, even if I should at first falter in fear. Let me know if you’d like to create a workforce where your people love their lives and live from courage through their purpose and core values.
This article was published in the column The Extraordinary Workplace in The St. Louis Small Business Monthly, December 2022