One of the things Canada, my country, is known for is maple syrup. If you don’t know, pure maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees. You take the sap and boil it down to remove everything except the syrup. In this case, you’re largely boiling away the water and other impurities. The result, well, Mmmmmm …
On a regular basis, I find myself hesitating to do something. Over the summer, the big hesitation was in publishing new blog posts. I didn’t stop writing, but I did stop publishing. You could say I had a big case of procrastination-itis happening.
There are plenty of excuses I could provide to justify the procrastination. However, when I boil it down to its essence I find fear. I was confronting a number of fears which had me paralyzed from publishing. Fear of being criticized, fear of sharing my work, fear of not having anything new to say, fear of not having an impact and so much more.
Fear is a normal part of the human experience. Over the years I have come to see fear as an uncomfortable friend. The friend who doesn’t always tell you what you want to hear, and always tells you what you need to hear.
In the case of my blog, I was confronting a big fear of whether I could contribute anything meaningful to the conversation on leadership. The problems in the world needing leadership have become overwhelming.
Climate change, politics, economic strains, trade wars, humanitarian crisis and so much more. How can I have an impact given how bad things have become?!?
Denying my discomfort
Procrastination is a behaviour in which someone continually puts off doing something. In the case of my writing, I continually put off publishing. In this case, the procrastination lasted for months.
There were some weeks I beat myself up for this. I would try to muscle through the procrastination, only to find myself still stuck. At one point I even told myself I was done with blogging and it was time to move on. I even tried denying I was procrastinating.
Denial is a coping mechanism we use to put aside something too painful or overwhelming to deal with at the moment. Denial is a powerful mindset in its ability to help us cope with something painful. In my case, the denial would leave me feeling a little better about myself despite not doing something I love.
In my heart, though, I knew I was procrastinating because it seemed easier than confronting the vulnerability that comes with publishing. Easier than risking the discomfort of being criticized. Easier than wondering if I can have an impact given the significance of the world problems.
It wasn’t until I sat in the discomfort beneath my procrastination that I got myself unstuck. I needed to look past the procrastination and see my own truth, no matter how uncomfortable the truth makes me.
In this case, I needed to acknowledge it’s OK to add my voice in the already crowded space of leadership. I will not appeal to everyone, and I know I may even receive criticism for what I’m putting out there.
All of this is worth it, though, if I even impact a small number of people.
Leading for Change
Leadership, much like life, is complex. In either context, there are many things which are involved with the success and failure of everything you do. This is why it is so important to be comfortable with the discomfort of continually getting out of your comfort zone. If you don’t you will find yourself procrastinating and falling behind.
There are lots of people out there trying to sell you their version of how to succeed in the face of change. I’ve seen plenty of well-intentioned leaders try to buy a solution to their problems. Unfortunately, not one of those solutions will actually solve your problems.
I spent a long time working in the world of Agile. Fortunately, and unfortunately, Agile offers the promise of delivering faster, better and cheaper. Unfortunately, because it gives the impression it’s easy and all you have to do is declare you are Agile.
When you boil all of the experiences down to their essence you will find it’s the messy human at its core. In particular, you will often find fear at the centre of all the struggles. Fear of failure. Fear of vulnerability. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of others finding out how much you actually know (or not). Fear of being irrelevant and so much more.
Fear is uncomfortable to talk about. It’s easy to avoid fear by denying it. Until you’re ready to bring fear to the surface and confront it, fear will continue to hold you back.
As a leader, you can create the conditions necessary for others to succeed. You will significantly change the game if it’s safe for people to talk about their fears.
Easier said than done
The thought of talking about fear can leave people feeling vulnerable and afraid. Often, a leader’s own fears can leave them trying to calm or fix other’s fears. However, it is through helping people confront their fears a leader will help others grow and improve their world.
This is definitely a case of easier said than done. A leader’s capacity to help others confront their fears will be limited by their own fears. This is why leadership starts by looking inward.
This is why my next few posts will focus on this topic of fear. In my upcoming posts, I will continue exploring this important topic. I will be looking at topics like:
- Identifying the presence of fear
- Confronting fears
- An interview with one of the most courageous people I know: my friend and fellow leader Dave Dame
Fear is not an easy topic to talk about. However, keep boiling things down to its essence. Much like with maple syrup, you will find something delicious awaiting you!