Fear Leads to Failure – Building Trust within your Team

Aug 12, 2010

— Managers rely on control; leaders inspire trust

My sons and I were watching a Star Wars movie marathon last weekend when Yoda (my favorite character) said something that caught my attention. “Fear is the path to the dark side….”  Now in our world, fear doesn’t lead to the dark side, but it can lead to failure. It inhibits us from taking chances and makes us question our own ability. The moment we have an idea that could be the next big thing or even a minor improvement to an existing process, the next thing we usually think of is “what if people don’t like it?”  Our ability to control our fear allows us to determine our professional and personal success.

Edward Deming, regarded by many as the leading quality guru in the United States, refers to eliminating fear as one of his 14 principles of quality management. Deming states, “Encourage effective two-way communication and other means to drive out fear throughout the organization so that everybody may work effectively and more productively for the company.”  Eliminating fear is crucial to innovation.

As I mentioned in my previous post, leaders must encourage ideas and provide a safe place to nurture innovation. The easiest way to help employees push fear out of the way is with honest, encouraging feedback. Building trust within your team is essential. We do this at Hewitt by encouraging others to share their new ideas on team calls. It can be a new tool, a new process, or simply a new way of thinking about an existing solution. Encouraging people to re-look at assumptions and challenging the status quo are critical components to this.

The second way I’ve found to be effective in controlling fear among the team is to not focus on the short-term ebb and flow of recruiting. My goal as a leader is to cast a long-term vision of growth and success, then support it in an environment of trust. It is crucial to not only be able to articulate where we are headed, but why. You have to earn the right to lead by building trust. Then you need to engage your team and gather their support for this journey; you can’t force them to come along. If we get caught up in managing for the short term, it skews our goals and the team will not know day-to-day what is motivating my decisions. That is where fear starts to creep in. Focusing on the long term allows us to look at new ideas differently. What may not make sense today may in the future. The team should understand that leadership will evaluate each idea based upon the same criteria and they can be prepared for it. This knowledge also lessens the fear of the unknown and allows for more creatively. It also allows for greater collaboration throughout the team. Everyone should understand the ground rules and they can help vet other’s ideas and work through potential solutions.

My goal as a leader is rather simple – I need to focus on building trust within my team by offering support and honest feedback.  Coupled with being able to articulate and execute a long term strategy will reduce the fear within the team and enable them to be more productive and engaged. If I can be a beam that illuminates the dark side; the team can focus on the light and not let fear take them back into the dark.

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