Tag Archives: fear

Instrument of Torture

Today’s story is not for the faint hearted or those of a nervous disposition. If that includes you, then before you turn away I want you to know this. Despite the gut wrenching disappointment about which I’m going to write, yesterday also contained a tidal wave of support and encouragement. In the last 24 hours I’ve been described several times as brave, cool and fascinating. Taking risks is uncomfortable, it’s meant to be that way and is therefore not for everyone. And that’s OK. The next best thing to taking that risk is to encourage those around you who are brave, cool, fascinating, scared and stupid enough to try. And that’s vital.

There’s a line in Xtc’s Sergeant Rock that says, ‘Sometimes relationships don’t go as planned’. I agree – sometimes love is complicated, particularly when there are three involved. In this case the three are me, my guitar, and my stage fright. Yesterday, I lost.

I took myself off to my London Underground busking audition feeling both excited and nervous. I know the songs I’d selected like the back of my hand, my practice sessions have gone well, the sun is shining and all is right with the world. I arrived at Charing Cross underground station in plenty of time and via a series of friendly, smiling LU staff I arrived on a disused platform far below the ground. It was a little chilly, and the reception from people was warm and encouraging. I filled out all the paperwork, had my interview then was invited to practice and warm up on the platform. I was enjoying the experience.

‘Next please!’ came a voice from around the corner and I walked through to give my audition. The panel of three people asked me a few questions – we shared some smiles and then they asked me to perform. The panel chose the song London Calling, which I have heard, played and sung only about a gazillion times. I looked down the platform and in my mind’s eye I saw a ghostly train exit stage left and disappear down the tunnel. I turned to face the panel and….nothing. It was as if I’d left the song on the train like a piece of lost luggage, it had vanished. I stood there in awkward silence racking my brain for the opening line and the harder I thought, the faster the ghost train rolled, putting more and more distance between me and the song. It wasn’t coming back and I reluctantly told the panel I’d completely forgotten the song. Cue awkward laughter.

We moved on and I delivered Folsom Prison Blues to a good standard, my shattered nerves not withstanding. And a few short minutes later, it was over and I emerged blinking into the sunlight again. I will learn my fate in a few weeks time. Will this adventure go any further? I doubt it. If I were on that panel I wouldn’t give me a licence based on that performance.

Later in the afternoon, I took solace from reading an excellent post by Steve Boese titled, “I Want To Hate These ‘Lessons Learned’, But I Can’t”. In the post is a reference to risk, “…staying at risk throughout your career, or at least engaging with as much risk, fear, or even unknown as you can manage. Safe is safe, and while it (sometimes) means ‘secure’ it often turns into ‘boring’.” Despite my disappointment, I agree with this sentiment, or to put it another way:

‘You won’t succeed unless you try’. Strummer/Jones – Clash City Rockers

Presenteeism versus Productivity

I’ve never been a fan of the former, and I’ve always believed in the latter. My first boss in BT would expect us to return to the office in Croydon after meeting a customer in Wales/Toddington/Leicester, anywhere. He would rather stare out of his office at the back of our heads (with no knowledge of what we were actually up to) than permit us to return home after the meeting and be productive there. Wasted time, wasted fuel, no trust, no….well you get the idea.

Things change – and before leaving BT in 2009 I and they enjoyed the prodiuctive benefits of flexible working. I know companies will never please everyone but on this I think BT tries hard and does well, most of the time.

Most recently, we’ve seen our old enemy fear lurking in the dark corners. Oh dear, am I being watched? I’d better nail my backside to the chair all day. I’d better get there before everyone else. I dare not leave first. It seems that the recession has caused an overload of presenteeism, and indeed, binge working. My work’s bigger than your work, you get the picture.

I believe in many things. I ask many questions. “What’s the least I can do to have a meaningful impact?” I’m not proud of input per se, (though I see the benefit of research, preparation, training etc.) I love output.

Katherine Wiid runs a wonderful people management business called Recrion. She has written a lovely short piece on the power of productivity and brevity which I think you might like. Have a read, then maybe go for a short walk and have a think. Go on, it’s OK, the lurker has turned its back, and I’ll keep an eye out for you.

Fear – The Chronic Curse

Candour – or the lack of it.

How many people walk away from meetings and have actually bought into the agreed actions? How much candour is there in most meetings? I find that the people with the least candour in a meeting are often the ones that complain most after the meeting and never really agreed on the actions. This behaviour causes dysfunctional teams, and dysfunctional businesses.

I think that lack of candour is usually caused by fear. For too many people, fear is a chronic curse on their lives. When you see someone rushing, it is because they fear they will be late or miss something. When you see someone interrupting, it is often fear that they may miss their chance to make their point or forget what they were going to say that causes the interruption.

Fear shuts down people’s receptors.

  • When you see people not objecting to bad behaviour, it is fear that constrains them
  • When you see people saying yes when they want to say no, it is usually fear that is driving them
  • When you see people staying silent when they should be speaking out, it is fear holding their tongues
  • When leaders ask, “Is that agreed?”, they often take as agreement the silence that is most people’s greatest protest.
  • When you see senior management not sharing their concerns with junior staff because it might harm morale, it is fear that is causing them to keep their secret. That fear denies them access to the creative minds that may help them solve the problems causing their fear.

And when I say fear, I also mean dread. It goes under other guises too: anxiety, worry, doubt, nervousness, concern, sometimes even sensitivity.

Occasional fear in small quantities is handy. The adrenalin helps you run, fight or hide until the danger is past. But chronic fear cripples and shrivels you. It reduces your mental capacity and your creativity. It isolates you. It disintegrates organisations, teams and people. That is why Roosevelt said, “You have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” We can learn to diminish our fears and focus our energies more positively and engagingly. We can learn, and good leaders do, and help their people to generate the confidence and openness that brings the connectedness and resilience that enables teams and organisations to succeed in the most difficult times.

A practical thing that one can do at any meeting is to ask, “What have we agreed to do?” and in turn, “What are you personally going to do to help us achieve what we have all agreed to do?” Then listen for a SMART objective. Anyone is more likely to deliver what he or she hears themselves commit to aloud in front of their peers than to fulfill someone else’s draft of the minutes of a meeting long after the discussion. That commitment and delivery builds positive trust very quickly. Lead the way!

I think this is the first time I’ve gone back and updated a previous post. I want to add a link to a powerful talk I’ve just watched on TEDx. It’s by Jonathan Fields and it’s called, Turning Fear Into Fuel. I encourage you to grab a cup of coffee and invest less than 20 minutes enjoying this liberating and interesting talk.