Fear is a sneaky but debilitating force in a team. It doesn’t typically announce its presence with fireworks and fanfare; it just settles in quietly and turns people into smaller, less potent versions of themselves. In short order, communication gets warped, vulnerability disappears, negative competition rises, and the vigor and vitality of the team disappears. It’s especially damaging to creative teams because it kills innovation and the creative spirit. These are inherently risky endeavors because they involve exploring new ideas and stepping into uncharted territory. When fear takes root and people worry too much about making wrong choices or missteps, they stop making choices and taking steps altogether and that’s the end of creativity and innovation in your team.
The reason fear is so debilitating is because it doesn’t just dampen creativity and diminish people directly. It enlists them in the devolution themselves and they become the agents of their own demise. Think of it this way: when the culture of a team or the experience in it is threatening, people try to protect themselves by caring about it as little as possible. They dial-back their commitment in the interest of self-preservation and stay in “safe” but unremarkable territory. When vulnerability disappears, vital things like trust, joy, and pride leave with it and the team is doomed.
If you want to protect your team from this and lead your members to invest themselves increasingly in the mission and each other, you need to make fear Public Enemy Number One. You need to drive it out of the mix wherever it shows up and fill your people with courage instead. Courage is a Foundation of Accountability and enables people to step-up their sense of ownership and commitment.
Here are some tips for Encouraging Your Team.
1. Stop Fear at its Source.
Fear is like an infection in your team. So, treating the symptoms is only buying time. It might make the current situation more tolerable, but it won’t remove the threat or improve the long-term prognosis for your team. Instead, you need to eliminate the real cause of the fear and inoculate your team from its effects altogether. Consider these four sources of fear in organizations. Do any of them apply to you and your team?
2. Fill their sails
Fear has a disturbing way of sucking the wind out of people and projects and leaving them stalled. When you encourage and embolden them you put wind in their sails and get them moving again. I worked for a leader once that had the uncanny ability to suck the wind out of his team’s sails. Whenever things were difficult, or we doubted our ability to accomplish the mission, he was the last person in the world we wanted to see. We knew he would suck out whatever breath of hope we had left in us and leave us feeling worse than before. How do your team members see you? Are you known as a “Filler-of-Sails” or just another “Sucker”? Strive to be the kind of person that others seek out when they have doubts or find things daunting. Be the kind of leader they know will fill them up, make them feel bigger, and leave them more confident and capable than when they arrived.
3. Don’t overuse fear as a motivator.
Fear is a pretty powerful motivator. It can cause people to quickly focus their attention and increase their activity. So, it’s tempting to use it liberally in motivating a team but be careful! Fear’s ability to gain compliance and elevate activity in the short-run belies its distancing and desensitizing effect over time. You can easily find yourself trapped in a vicious-cycle where you are crippling the very things you are hoping to advance.