When our minds focus on the wrong issues, our misdirected fear can keep us from working on the things that matter. For example, in the weekend LA Times Parade magazine, Maura Rhodes provided a short list of what we tend to focus on versus what we should really be fearing (see graphic).
Organizations also encounter this same problem. When we focus on the wrong thing we attempt to fix the wrong problems with misguided efforts. Here are three ‘Fear This, Not That’ scenarios that I bump into as I work with organizations.
1. Fear a faulty hiring process, not problem employees! No one enjoys a bad employee. However, if we aren’t careful with who we let in the front door, we can expect a busy back-door! I have inherited more than my share of bad employees. I’ve also hired a few myself. A consistent pattern with problem staff is that they provided early warning signals about poor performance (usually in the interview or during their probation period). If your HR office is not a strong collaborator during the hiring, probation and evaluation process, you can expect problem employees. When you are supported by a robust interview (which must include the three C’s – character, competency and chemistry), you will generally make good decisions. When we don’t, low performer employees cause leaders to develop a defensive leadership style. We create better leaders by hiring better employees.
2. Fear your strategic planning process, not the future! As a futurist, I consistently speak with people who hear what I do and say, “Oh, we need to understand the future better”. Then they go on to tell me about the many challenges that an uncertain future brings. Usually their focus is on what they don’t know. Very few speak about what they do know or how they can know more. If your strategic plan is not using the tools of strategic foresight as a means to proactively engage with the future, you have reason to fear it. As we equip ourselves with future knowledge we enable ourselves to build and activate better strategy. When we don’t, we fear the future.
3. Fear organizations who focus on leadership development rather than the development of good leadership. While this phrase may seem like I am splitting hairs, the difference between leadership and good leadership is immense. Leadership development focuses on what leaders do. While what a leader accomplishes is important, it is insufficient. Bin Laden, Hitler and President Mugabe (Zimbabwe) were effective leaders who left a path of destruction in their wake. Instead, when we focus on good leadership we discuss the hard issues – why are we leading, what is good and how do we improve our collective well-being. While that statement contains a throwback hippy sentimentality, the current rise of ethics, morality and ends-focus (not just the means) is also increasing in our business literature.
As we examine our fears, we need to ensure we are afraid of the right things. This requires us to challenge our assumptions. Learning to question our fears and identify the important ones can mobilize us from inaction to action.
I’d love to hear your own versions of misdirected fear in the workplace. ‘Fear This, Not That!’.
Jeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman