Are You Afraid?
By: Randy Wolken, President & CEO

Are you afraid?  If not, you probably are not yet risking enough.  Fear is a natural reaction to the mystery we call life – the unexpected, the unexplainable, the tragedies, and the sheer joys.  Even in joy we can fear it will end – be taken from us.  The longer I live the more I know it is a mystery – and I cannot adequately explain or even prepare for it.  So, when we are honest, we certainly must admit we are afraid.  As leaders, that is not something we were likely taught to do – to be vulnerable.

Given that all of us are afraid some of the time – and more often than we like to admit – what are we to do?  Like any challenges that are real and reoccurring, preparing for them with appropriate strategies that work for us is critical.  And, this takes real work.

The first step for me was admitting that I was afraid and that it was not only natural – but desired.  I have learned that if I am not experiencing some level of fear than I am not being bold enough.  I am not talking about silly risks or just being reckless – no leader can afford to do that. Nope, I am talking about thought out and reasonable bold moves—personally and professionally.  Playing it safe today is a sure strategy for being left behind.  Fear is an indicator that we are doing something right – attempting new things, new relationships, and new outcomes.  Fear is a great gift – in indicates we are alive and in the game!

Stress is the consequence of fear.  In fact, science shows us that there is a healthy amount of stress that helps us perform at our best.  This is true of star athletes and business leaders. However, when stress gets too high it has a negative effect on our performance. Having stress management strategies is critical.  There our countless resources today to help us manage stress.  For me, I like the ones I can use in the moment.  I will take deep breaths, smile, close my eyes, say a simple prayer word, or look for a friend in the crowd depending on the moment.  If I have more time, I like to go for a walk, journal, or seek the company of a trusted co-worker.  My simple advice – experiment and do what works for you.  But, do develop a set of tactics and a strategy for managing stress.

Another strategy, besides combating stress, that I use is learning from others who are good at taking meaningful risks to move ahead.  Experience may be the best teacher – but the tuition is really high.  Learning from others with more insights or experience is the great equalizer in a successful life.

Finally, I recommend seeking the actual help of others.  Fear can remind us we cannot – and should not – take on the greatest challenges alone.  A team will nearly always outperform a single individual.  Besides, it can be a whole lot more enjoyable to do it with others.

So, are you afraid?  Of what?  What does it tell you about your risks – and rewards? How will you deal with your emotions and reactions?  Who can you tell – and ask for guidance or help from?  In today’s high risk and high reward business climate, fear just may be your best friend.  But only if you know how to best manage it.