Strong, Transparent Communication is the Only Rational Anecdote to Fear

September 20, 2022
5 min read

The following article was written by Lauren Winans, CEO and Principal Consultant of Next Level Benefits, HR consulting firm. It was originally written for and released by hr.com.

Addressing our own fears and of those we lead

Some would say that leaders have more to be afraid of than ever before. I wouldn’t agree with that. Don’t get me wrong. Gun violence, health panics, and racial tensions are real issues, but they are not new issues. I’m not convinced that today’s world is a scarier place than it has been in the past.

However, I would say that we have a heightened awareness of anxiety and fear that makes it seem like the fear factor has gone up. There are new conversations happening in our workplaces; it is now more acceptable than ever before to be open about mental health struggles, anxiety, depression, obsessive tendencies, and paranoia. As a result, fear is more present in our workplaces and more people are looking for a response.

For leaders, this means that we need to place a higher priority on confronting fears in the workplace. Starting with ourselves and continuing with those we lead, we need to make sure we are taking the time to address our fears and develop responses that help to bring them under control.

ADDRESSING OUR OWN FEARS

It is not unusual for a leader to struggle with acknowledging their fears. If that is where you find yourself, I encourage you to embrace compassion and togetherness. It’s ok to be afraid of something, and when you are afraid, compassion is the correct response.

Chastising yourself for your fears is not helpful. Leaders are not called to be fearless, nor are they called to be alone. Sharing feelings of fear or dread with a friend, a colleague, another leader, or a mental health professional can be extremely liberating. After all, fear takes control when we give it power, but shrinks when we realize we are not alone in navigating our fear.

Personally, I was always afraid I wouldn’t have the right answer at the exact moment that one of my supervisors asked me a question. I spent a lot of time stressing about it, over-researching, overthinking and trying to prepare for every question that could ever be asked of me. It was a fear to which I gave too much control.

Surprisingly, it was the CEO of a company I worked for who said to me, unprompted, “You know you are the smartest one in the room on this topic, right? There’s no reason to be scared that you don’t know the answer or that you need time to find it. We don’t have the answers, that’s why we have you here to help us.” Receiving permission to not know all the answers was what I needed to let go of the fear of not being perfect in every workplace situation.

ADDRESSING THE FEARS OF THOSE WE LEAD

Nothing is better for addressing fear in the workplace than strong, transparent communication. It is the only rational anecdote to fear. When employees can understand the facts and the action plan behind them, their fear level decreases. Communication puts things in perspective, empowering employees to tame their own fears.

Even when things are not under control, communication helps give the illusion that they are. As much as we hate to admit it, we are not in absolute control of what happens around us or to us. No leader is. You may know what to do in problematic situations to reduce the panic, but that doesn’t necessarily reduce the fear that those situations will arise.

What a lot of employers are realizing as they seek to address their employees' heightened awareness of fear is that emotional support is as important as tactical education. For instance, employees need to know what to do during an active shooter situation, but they also need a resource to help them process the traumatic experience of fear, danger, and lack of control. Establishing credible, private, well-communicated mental health well-being resources that include trauma support should be a critical part of any workplace’s emergency programs and systems.

Overall, I have learned that authenticity, transparency, and empathy are the most important qualities any leader can have. If you are leading with authenticity and transparency, being honest about your fears comes with the territory, and leading with empathy allows you to recognize that you are not the only one who is fearful. Every leader has their own delivery style, but if these traits are your guidepost — the top three priorities you incorporate into your leadership — you will be well equipped to lead people, regardless of the situation or the fear that it brings.

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