When I mention word „fear“ people often think that we will discuss personal life matters. As if it doesn’t exist in business world. We may not admit or not notice but fear is a very „popular“ motive in our work environment. Quite often it stands behind great career achievements and success stories even though it has never been mentioned.
Fear is not always obvious and consciously chosen. It’s not that many of us deliberately realize and decide “oh I am so scared so I will become workaholic or control freak”. Everything is way more subtle, you have to look much deeper to understand real motive and driver behind certain behaviors such as micromanagement, gender specific behavior, workaholism and perfectionism.
All these behaviors have one thing in common – they are developed as a safety nets. Let me explain.
When we are afraid of something what do we do? We try to prevent scary situations from happening, right? In some cases this might be really simple e.g. if you are afraid of the dark you avoid going to the forest in the middle of the night. But what if someone is afraid of:
- Not meeting expectations (their own or somebody else’s)
- Losing their job/position/status
- Appearing less competent than one of her/his colleagues
- Not getting promotion
- Appearing weak
- Making mistakes
- Not being able to provide for the family
How do they build their prevention strategy? By developing control. In some cases control mechanisms are clear and obvious. In other instances they are not even realized and therefore even more dangerous. Below are a few well known examples from wok life which, I hope, will give better understanding and bring awareness to our own actions.
If we’re talking about managers it is easy to notice that delegation is not one of their strength or values. They don’t leave too much room for freedom or improvisation. Quite opposite! It often feels that they are interfering in every single task or assignment. Knowledge transfer is also not their biggest character treat. They truly believe that knowledge is power hence they keep as much as they can in their own hands.
Speaking about colleagues, I bet some of you know the feeling of working on the project or a group task with someone who knows “exactly” how everything should be done and don’t you dear to be creative. When they give you instructions you might feel like a complete newbie, even though your work experience might way longer than the instructor’s. They can go as far as doing the project all by themselves in order to avoid any deviations from the plan. Or they would simply remake everything to their own standards. Not a tiny bit or work is done without their interference.
It feels that such people do not trust others. They do not believe others can live up to their expectations. Some of them even feel superior with “better and deeper knowledge” as well as life experience. Another option is that such people are afraid to lose their position/status/authority. Therefore some managers instead of growing young talents make sure that certain team members do not become a threat to their own career.
The upside of having these people in the team is that they can deliver great results and quality. The downside, however, is that not many people would want to work in the team where they do not feel trusted and allowed growth opportunities.
Gender specific behavior
Gender equality is one of the most sensitive topics these days. Unfortunately there are plenty of situations where women still believe that they need to work harder than men to achieve at least the same results just because they are of a different gender.
Many women are afraid to be feminine because “nobody will want to hire them”. One of my fellow colleagues had a real struggle recently. She saw the position of her dreams opening up internally but… she was nearly 4 months pregnant. She wouldn’t even dare to apply! It was quite a rollercoaster to take the decision even to try! At the end it all worked out and “miracle” has happened but you know what I’m talking about, right?
A lot of women are still afraid of not being noticed, not being enough, not being “sufficiently like men”. They believe they have to be different, more manly, more “somebody else” to fit the shoes. Their fears direct them away from their unique qualities and instead on focusing on their own uniqueness they spend a lot of time controlling themselves to appear different than they are.
In all honesty I do not see the upside of this. But I really know the downside – organizations are losing unique and creative talents.
Workaholics and perfectionists
If you talk to them they truly believe that they are heroes. They believe that thanks to their dedication and high quality standards their organizations, teams and they themselves achieve amazing results! Without them and their devotion the world would not be the same. Regardless of their beliefs the reality is different.
Quite often people bury themselves at work because they are afraid that working normal hours this will not be enough. They’re afraid of not to be seen as sufficiently dedicated and devoted as their management wants them to be. They’re afraid to lose dream promotion or even their job. The challenge here is that they do not feel “enough” and therefore try to prove (mostly to themselves) that they are worth their job/position/status/career opportunities. The same as perfectionists. There are not much freedom and creativity in their actions. Only stress and fear to keep up with the standards that they’ve put on themselves.
Every organization loves workaholics and perfectionists – they do nearly double shifts without being asked and often without even being paid. However the downside is that such ride is not sustainable – depression, burnout or lost motivation are usual endings.
Overall control is not a bad thing and having fears is not something sinful. The most important thing is to understand the underlying motivation of your or your team members’ actions. Giving in to fears and building your strategy “how to avoid something” might get you somewhat far, however at pretty high costs. Facing your fears, on the other hand, will require a lot of bravery and honesty (with yourself). However it will always get you to whatever destination you want and will help you to pick up peers and supporters along the way.
The choice is always yours.