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Work Force Development

Nov. 9 - Is Fear Killing Your Career? Six Red Flags You Don't Want to Ignore

Savannah Business Journal Staff Report

November 9, 2017 - We live and work in an era of rapid change, violent disruption, and great uncertainty. If this thought makes you feel safe and secure, well, something might be wrong with you. Frankly, perpetual fear is a sane response to the carnival thrill ride that is today's workplace. And yet, according to Amanda Setili, company owners, leaders, and employees alike must learn to productively coexist with fear if we're to achieve any measure of career success.

"Just as organizations must be bold, agile, and constantly reinventing themselves, so must the individuals who lead and work in them," says Setili, author of Fearless Growth: The New Rules to Stay Competitive, Foster Innovation, and Dominate Your Markets. "That means no matter how tempting it is to freeze like the rabbit in the shadow of the hawk, we can't afford the luxury. Hiding out in a state of fear for too long will kill a career.

"The good news is, once we're aware that fear is holding us back, we can take action to overcome it," she adds. "It's not always easy, but taking bold action anyway—facing our fears and living to tell about it—is always the path to personal growth." (NOTE: See attached tipsheet.)

Of course, a certain amount of fear is useful. It prevents us from acting rashly and making ill-advised decisions. That's why it's not always easy to know when you've crossed the line between commonsense caution and career-squashing fear. That's why Setili offers up the following red flags to watch for:

You hold back your good ideas instead of speaking up. When you are about to voice your opinion, do you often stop yourself, afraid of what others might think? Setili relates: "A sales manager at a large retail store had a great idea for how to improve a key process in her department, but she kept it to herself. When I asked her why she didn't mention the idea to others, she said, 'Well, I'm always thinking: What if my boss disagrees? What if I'm overlooking a crucial detail? What if they implement my idea and something goes wrong?'"

You procrastinate on the big stuff. Have you put off acting on important priorities, letting the task slip to the bottom of your to-do list for days, weeks, or months on end? This can be a sign that you fear that you won't do the task well, or that it will backfire somehow.

You perpetually play it safe. Do you find yourself taking the safest and least controversial actions at work, even when you know that the "safe route" is the wrong action to take?

You're always looking for someone to blame. When things aren't going as well as you'd like, is your first impulse to explain how others in the organization contributed to the problem? Fear of being blamed for poor results can be debilitating. You waste time avoiding blame, rather than putting your energy into taking needed action.

You sugarcoat the truth or tell lies of omission. This often happens when we are afraid to deliver bad news. Perhaps you don't tell your subordinate that she needs to improve performance or you don't share with your boss bad news you received from a customer. "Too often we are afraid of what people will think and do if we tell the truth, so we gloss over the truth or say nothing at all," says Setili.

You don't trust others to do their part. A department manager at a large manufacturing company worked long hours, yet accomplished far less than he could have. Why? Because he was afraid to delegate to his team and didn't trust his peers enough to ask them to contribute to his most important projects. His mantra was: If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. "This attitude doesn't work in today's fast-moving world," notes Setili. "If you aren't moving fast, as a team, the competition will pass you by."

If you've spotted these red flags, fear is most likely dampening your effectiveness. It may be holding you back from speaking the truth or quickly taking action you need to take. And that can be very bad news for your career path.

"When fear gets in the way, you're not only less effective, you tend to be less happy and fulfilled," says Setili. "You may feel as if you are staying in the 'safe zone,' but in reality, if you don't speak up when things go wrong, if you don't take risks, if you don't trust others to make decisions, you end up in a far less safe place. Problems fester, teamwork unravels, and you miss opportunities to excel.

"When you were first learning to ride a bike, the bike was tippy and unstable," she adds. "Once you got moving, however, the motion of the bike created stability. You overcame the fear and got to a safer place. Biking became fun. In this way, overcoming your fears at work creates greater safety, stability, and fulfillment for you and the others you work with."

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