Emotions are powerful and the biggest emotional motivator of all is fear. There are two types of fear. The first is real. It gets triggered when facing actual, life threatening situations. The second is psychological - these are things we make up in our own minds because we're afraid of failure, losing a job or missing an opportunity.
Regardless of what we might tell ourselves, our businesses, jobs and teams are not immune to self-induced fear. Our fears and anxieties affect both our individual well-being as well as the businesses we are a part of, often resulting in poor decisions and strategies.
In leadership, figuring out how to drive growth isn’t only about MBA-school topics such as go-to-market strategies or pipeline management. It’s about managing fear too—fear and anxieties in your own mind and the minds of your friends and colleagues.
Strategic Thinking Derailed by Fear
Many organizations continue to treat marketing as if it’s a tactical, short-term solution to generating immediate leads for their sales teams. A study performed by Accenture found that 37% of the 535 global-company CEOs who responded to the survey said that their CMOs would be the first fired if corporate growth targets weren’t met.
This type of short-term thinking kills the creativity required for marketing to deliver results.
"I blame it more on a business culture,” says Peter Field, author of an IPA report that analyzes marketing campaign effectiveness. “Marketers often [understand the need for long-term thinking] but their problem is they cannot convince the CFO, who is saying ‘I don’t give a damn about the long term, I just want a good quarter’. It is unreasonable to expect marketers to address the long term when their jobs and livelihoods are on the line.”
Instead, business leaders need to understand that marketing is more a marathon than a sprint. It takes strategic thinking and long-term planning. It doesn’t always produce overnight success, especially for startups who do not have brand recognition or more than a handful of customers. Getting people to hear your message and talk about your brand takes time.
Understanding Fear as an Inhibitor to Growth
Nurturing a culture where long term strategic thinking is encouraged and employees feel empowered, are essential traits of a healthy organization. But leaders can’t do that if they haven’t mastered their own negative, fear-driven thoughts.
In our age of rationality, many of us believe that reason is the only viable method of making decisions. Antonio Damasio, neuroscientist and author of Descartes’ Error, disagrees. Through a series of tests, Damasio has shown that using reason alone is inadequate. He works with patients who had damaged the part of their brain where emotions are generated. It made them unable to make simple decisions—should I have turkey or chicken for dinner?
Emotions play a huge role in our everyday lives. One day we might get into an argument with a colleague and tomorrow feel ashamed for the way we spoke. Psychologists have found that much of our thinking happens outside the realm of conscious reason and it’s beyond its control.
"Sometimes when we’re afraid of something,” Christopher Bader, a Chapman sociology professor told the New York Times, “even if our fears are irrational, that can lead us to make choices that will actually cause the thing that we are avoiding.” The concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy—how your perception of reality can make the very thing you dread become true—isn’t new. Emotions such as fear trigger negative thoughts that affect our brains.
Anxiety can become a habit—your comfort zone. If that's where you are, you can't lead effectively.
Self-Awareness is Key to Confident Leadership
Psychologists, Dan Joseph and Daniel Newman, recently did a comprehensive study that examined the link between emotional intelligence and job performance. They discovered that in jobs that required extensive attention to emotions, higher emotional intelligence translated into better performance. Marketing and sales fall into these categories.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ or EI) is a term popularized by Dan Goleman in his book, which was on The New York Times bestseller list for a year-and-a-half. Goleman shares that although the qualities commonly associated with leadership are intelligence, decisiveness, determination and vision, they are not enough. The most effective leaders have a solid degree of emotional intelligence. In fact, he reveals direct links between a leader’s emotional intelligence and measurable business results.
Self-awareness, a key aspect of Emotional Intelligence, is a subtle force that is easily missed by those who lack it, but it is an essential quality of great leaders.
Being self-aware means that you are in touch with your own truth. When you lack self-awareness, you are more likely to take an authoritative and fear-driven approach to management. You often don’t have an accurate read on a situation, might behave in ways that demoralizes your employees and you might lack empathy. Your behavior could cause employees to operate from a position of fear—they won’t speak up, take risks, be creative or cooperate.
With a high degree of self-awareness and emotional intelligence, leaders can disarm anxieties that ultimately reduce productivity and create conflict.
One way to start this process of changing your own thinking is to keep repeating positive thoughts often. Whenever an anxious thought enters your mind, don’t give it the focus it’s craving, observe it without judging it, and then either focus on something else (such as your breath) or replace it with a positive thought. Doing so reshapes your brain over time to make pathways to new ideas and habits. It’s a concept called neuroplasticity, based on neuroscience.
With time, you will experience changes in the way you think and how you interact with others, improving your own life and the life of others.