Defeating the Fear Monster! Part 1

Fear Monster

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Haudan, CEO and co-founder of Root Inc.  Jim is a visionary leader whose company’s visual approach to learning and development is simply superior. 

Through its creative design methodology, Root does an exceptional job of helping organizations connect people with complex strategies by overcoming challenges such as disengaged employees, lack of trust, poor communications, and, most of all, FEAR.

During the interview, I asked Jim, “Why is it so hard for employees to feel safe?”

He quickly answered, “Change.”

According to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus,

“Nothing is permanent but change.”

Considering Heraclitus lived between 535 BC – 475 BC, I think it is safe to say that change will continue to be a constant challenge for future generations of leaders.

Jim explained that fear is often the first reaction we all have to change.  The first step in overcoming this challenge is to identify and describe some common types of fear we all experience at different times.

The following fears make up what Jim calls “the Fear Monster.”

The Fear Monster


Fear of indictment for past performance

If things need to change, many people fear that what they were doing in the past was wrong and they may be vulnerable now. This fear of indictment can be paralyzing and it is extremely hard to be creative and perform under these conditions.

There is a fear of being branded and punished for not being on-board.

This is a very serious issue because many employees fear they may come across as a whiner or insubordinate if they challenge a senior manager.  Many times, change agents need push-back as there may be serious risks ahead.  Fear of being seeing as not being on-board may be the cause for many issues that could have been prevented if employees had felt safe enough to push back.


Fear of not being accepted by the team

This fear is similar to the fear of being branded.  In this case, we may fear that we will be shunned by the team if we challenge an idea or change initiative.


Fear of offending a colleague

It can be difficult to separate issues from individuals and this leads many of us to hold our opinion because we may offend someone.  This is due to our inability to talk with candor about an issue and not the people involved.


Fear that speaking the truth will “zap” valuable time and not address the issue

Many times we know that something is going to be difficult but verbalizing that issue may “open up a can of worms.” The problem here is that we may not know how to deal with the issue and the same problem may continue to plague the organization’s ability to change and succeed.


Fear of sounding stupid

A very real fear that we all experience is that of being put down and not being valued if someone feels our idea is naive or may not work.


Fear of retribution for telling the truth

At times we feel we will “suffer the consequences” if we speak the truth. We fear the Big Boss will get mad if we talk about the elephant in the room.


Fear of not having it figured out

This is when we are afraid that others will know that we don’t have all the answers.  I have personally encountered this fear many times in management     positions.  It can be very scary when we have to lead teams when we don’t know all the answers.  It takes a lot of courage to let others know we don’t have it all figured out.

During the interview, Jim explained that the key to overcoming all these fears is to make it safe to talk about all the things we don’t know how to talk about.

We need to create a culture where employees can address the issues they don’t feel safe addressing.

Core Values & Skills

Truth telling as a core competency

Jim makes a strong case for what he calls “the truth-telling core competency.”

To develop this competency, we must overcome all fears and be willing to share vulnerability.  For example, managers need to feel safe telling their staff that they don’t have it all figured out, while staff members have to feel safe in “pushing back” without being labeled as insubordinate for asking the tough questions that require courage to ask.

The key to developing the truth-telling core competency in staff at all levels is the focus of my next article.  We will explore how visual tools can be used to develop a common language and engage employees at all levels in the process of addressing difficult issues without being held hostage by any of the fears listed above.

In those cases where visual aids establish common vocabulary and safety when discussing tough issues, truth-telling can be developed as an organizational core competency.

Until then, I am interested in your comments on the topics covered in this post.

Have your experienced any of the fears listed above?  If so, have you been able to overcome them? What are your thoughts about the truth-telling core competency?  Is it attainable?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Al Gonzalez
Al Gonzalez is Founding Partner at GIVE Leadership
He helps clients develop trust and leverage the strengths of all team members
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