Fear Is Not A Choice …..

I mentioned in my post from last week about how fear can influence our behaviors and even at times our thinking. Fear is a standard in America today.

Outsourcing, off-shoring, the economy, work force reductions, the maliciousness of politics, terrorism threats, the intrusive nature of technology – a loss of privacy, and more, all serve to stimulate fear, and in so doing, modulate our decisions and behaviors.

Fear is not a choice, it is the instinctive reaction of self-preservation.

That threat generating fear may be real, or it may be perceived.  The imagined possibility of “the worst scenario” can impact us as much as a real and immediate threat of physical harm.

Fear is able to alter sound decisions, healthy behaviors, and worst of all prompts a violation of our personal standards of ethics if we allow it to over take us. I’ve known situations that caused good people to do wrong things, not because they became bad people, but they feared the loss of something.

I have seen three situations in my life that caused fear to propagate among people. The first was in the early 1990s. I worked for a company that went from approximately 49,000 employees to less than 42,000 in a few short years. The loss of almost 7,000 employees, most of which were located in our state, was devastating. It created almost caricature like responses in people.

Rational people became panicky and impulsive. Energetic leaders became lethargic and distant. Easy going managers became almost neurotic in their desire for details and information. Rumor mongering replaced good communications. Trust was replaced by suspicion and integrity replaced by guile.

The other two times were in different places and situations. The propagation of fear can occur among a work place, church community, school, or the nation.  Almost any place where people fear loosing something of value, be it pay, power, or passion, and it can provoke the worst in the best of us.

One of the most powerful examples of this in leadership comes from history. The Nixon White House. When Richard Nixon’s re-election was by all measures and predictions a sure thing, his perceived fear generated behavior in he and his staff of loyal people that was shameful. These were smart people, educated people, and people who I am sure went into public service for many of the right reasons.

Why does this happen and what can be done to mitigate those effects?

We must start with ourselves.

Our value to the business, the organization, the community.

It can happen if we find ourselves obsolete in our skills, knowledge, or willingness to put self aside.


When you first took to your career and/or became part of an organization, you had a mind to learn, grasp ideas, and the anxiety wasn’t fear.  It was the beginners mind wanting to devour what you could about the job, skill, organization, and relationships that would make you successful, to be a part of the organization’s community, and provide value and contribute in a meaningful way.

As time went on, was that replaced by complacence, arrogance, and/or a sedentary mind, content with what you knew and contributed so far, unwilling to take risk any more and start something new or uncomfortable?

We mitigate this by keeping a beginners approach to learning, contributing, and meeting people. Is that easy and uncomfortable? For most of us yes. Yet, as we start anew, we learn anew. We mitigate the potential to becoming obsolete.

We must view our contribution to the company we work for as a business proposition. Is what I am providing worth what I am getting paid? Does the application of my skills demonstrate a mutual investment? On my part the continued learning and on the part of my employer the recognition that I am able and even desirous of the opportunity to adapt to the demands, up or down, being placed on the enterprise.

Doing so lessens our fear, which allows us to be a leader to others at times when they need direction, trust, and hope.

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