Fear is not a Success Strategy

The only thing we have to fear is…a fearful boss

Every day you and I hear stories of economic turmoil and doom-and-gloom. The markets are up, and then they are down—lately down more than up. Fear, uncertainty, and the consequences of unrestrained greed are all colliding in a perfect storm.

And if you want your business to be successful over the long term, you should pay little attention.

Necessary yet insufficient

While it’s likely that you are here because some distant ancestor noted that other people were doing this or that behavior and no longer existed as a result, fear rarely motivates anyone past survival. Fear can direct you away from a situation that may be dangerous, which does result in some short-term success. Yet fear cannot tell you what you need and where you should go for long-term success.

In my work I have visited more organizations than I care to think about that have fired people who have become paralyzed by earnestly listening to the boss: “Don’t do this. Never do that. Under no circumstances do anything like that again!” Eventually these people, driven by fear of doing what the boss didn’t want, were reduced to doing the fewest “wrong” things possible—which was essentially nothing. Once they weren’t contributing in any useful way, their firing was easily justified.

Unfortunately, their bosses never realized they had built a destructive culture of fear, since most people in the organization were able to cope by ignoring the literal meaning of the rantings and instead looking for the deeper, hidden messages: “I’m concerned about earnings. Please take care of the customer first. How can you make your time at work as productive as possible?”

So while it’s a sad statement that many employees succeed in essence by ignoring their bosses, it does give us some sense of how we might succeed when surrounded by today’s negative messages.

Another guiding light

Warren Buffett says he is “…greedy when others are fearful, and fearful when others are greedy.” I interpret his message to mean that it is critical to know what you are trying to achieve and to stay on course, even when others are jumping ship willy-nilly. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, has successfully focused on long-term wealth accumulation by establishing a strategy for success that clearly doesn’t involve focusing on what he doesn’t want.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s not valuable to pay attention to the critical success factors in your business. Nor am I saying that you shouldn’t factor in how interest rates and availability of capital affect your long-term plans. What I am saying is that those factors are just that—factors—that should inform but not dictate what you are trying to do and live out through your business.

Actions you can take today

  1. Take a reality check. Take a sheet of paper and make two columns. List all the negative news you’re hearing on one side, and list the actual and potential impact to your business on the other side. See if you’re getting swept up in fear and worry that won’t really affect you.
  2. Strengthen your desired picture of the future. Ask yourself to look beyond current reality and paint an even clearer picture of what you most want your business to look like in, say, 5 years. What’s important enough to go through discomfort to get to where you most what to be? Hint: involving others in this process, especially with an experienced facilitator, can help them be inspired and see the path through the storm as well.

Chris Hutchinson

About the Author:  Chris Hutchinson, President and CEO of Trebuchet Group, helps facilitate leadership growth and business success of local and global clients, using a collaborative approach to enable consistent, effective results. He can be reached at chris@trebuchetgroup.com

© 2008 Trebuchet Group