Do you remember the things that scared you when you were a child? Was it dark? Or the idea that something was lurking under your bed? Or in the closet? Maybe it was an animal, person or place that scared you? And how did you deal with the fear? In childhood, our feelings are so much more alive. The joys are more joyful and the fears more fearful. In most of our lives, the thing that reduced or saved us from that fear was another person.
That is why this pandemic has been so punitive. Exactly what we need most to reduce our anxiety is denied us – the closeness to other people. That's why we hug our parents and children. The physical embrace often articulates the emotions that the brain cannot. There is significant evidence that children who were not hugged grow up with more problems.
This year we've really seen what fear can do. Entire parts of the community live with it. From racial minorities and older communities who fear for their lives to workers who fear for their jobs and livelihoods. There are parents who fear for their children and children who fear for their parents. Everywhere we look, people are afraid.
It is a universal emotion. We've all felt it and it defines us. Is your career determined by what you want or don't want? The truth is, fear guides us more effectively than mere ambition. Those who get silver before gold are in so much pain from failure that they subsequently win more gold than those who do on the first try.
Pain is a powerful motivator. Our accumulated knowledge of how to avoid pain is called "experience." We have boardrooms for this. It's where experience is stored. Our boards must be good at seeing things that are not there. Therefore, an important leadership skill is not prediction of one outcome, but preparation for all outcomes. This is also the reason why we need more diversity in boardrooms. Different people worry about different things. When the people are all the same, they worry about the same things. We call this a diversity of fear. It allows us as a team to see and prepare for many more threats than we could ever do as individuals.
We all have our fears. As a leader reading this, you are not one of the less scared. You just worry about different things. For example, some people worry that they don't have money. Then there are those who are worried about losing the money they have. Then there are those who worry about the consequences of too much money. Those with money worry whether their friends like them for who they are or for the money they have. Very few are without fear. It's one of the big myths that somehow you don't have to be scared when you have a lot of money. You are just afraid of different things. We all have fear.
 So why, when so many people fear are leaders themselves its origin? There are, of course, only two motivation methods: the carrot and the stick. However, most people just want to do a good job. In a culture of leadership, the fear of not doing the job well is enough fear.
Leaders have authority, but also responsibility. You have a "to do" list, but do you also have a "to-be" list? After all, you cannot "do" inspiring, reassuring, consistent, protective, or humble. These are only things you can "be".
If you consider yourself an entrepreneurial leader, also recognize that this is one of the few times when your leadership can really be seen. After all, anyone can lead when everything goes well. But in turbulent economic and political times, as your team is entering the winter quarter of the year and they are scared, well, this is your time.
People don't think well when they are afraid. They are not doing anything right. Think what that fear can do to destroy confidence. Psychologists say competence follows preference. They always have a way of making things more complicated. What they mean is that you get good at what you enjoy doing. Why? Because if you like it, you want to do more of it. If you do more of it, you get good at it. If you get good at it, you get paid more. What's not to like?
If everyone is so scared, this is a time for you to be the equilibrium item and this is the central theme of the research for my latest book, The Infinite Leader. Our leaders are trained in schools and universities that measure individual performance. There are whole sets of leadership skills that are not taught or measured. These include compassion, empathy, humor, humility and cooperation. Remember, in times of fear, not everything that counts can be counted. Likewise, not everything that is counted counts.
If you're a leader, it's not your job to be the smartest person in the room. If you think so, you are in the wrong room. If you are a leader, your job is to make everyone else feel like the smartest person in the room. And you can't feel smart when you're scared. Your job as a leader is to take the fear away so that people can think. You cannot have the presence of the positive without first ensuring the absence of the negative.
First job as a leader in these troubled times? Take away the fear.