They focus people on potential negative outcomes. Great leaders, on the other hand, stand for something better and focus on that, rather than spreading fear and anxiety to manipulate behaviour.
As humans we have a unique capability to separate ourselves from our emotions and acknowledge and analyse our feelings. We also have the capacity to imagine and, thankfully, it can be a source of inspiration.
When we can acknowledge that we are not merely driven by a ‘fight or flight’ response, then we can analyse our reasoning when making decisions. We can question why we are scared and whether our fear is real or imagined, likely to eventuate, and the possible consequences should it eventuate. We can also then ask whether we are being manipulated to make a decision by somebody else’s fear, or their desire to control our behaviour.
Whenever we feel fearful, we should instigate this questioning process because in not doing so we are more inclined to focus on what we want to avoid, rather than what we want to achieve.
Decision-making is at the core of leadership. Great leaders are good decision makers because they have clarity of their purpose, and the values by which they want to achieve that purpose. They can articulate their fears from the context of the risk of not achieving their purpose.
To be able to make great decisions, and thus change our situation, we must both accept some discomfort, and be able to imagine something better.
Ignoring the fear altogether is not helpful either, because that may lead to reckless actions. Effective decision makers equally acknowledge the situations they fear and espouse their ultimate goals for achievement.
In decision-making, awareness of our values is also important. Our values reflect the things that are most important to us. They guide how we behave and interact.
Exceptional Leaders do not use fear to manipulate or control others because doing so distracts from what they want to achieve. Without clarity of what they want to achieve, poor leaders resort to using fear as the only way to manipulate and sustain control.
Too often, we confuse power with leadership. While there are many people with power over others, there are few who are great leaders. Genuine leaders are more interested in their purpose than their power.
Uninspiring leaders in positions of power often use fear as a means to exert their authority or retain their control. They (or their supporters) usually use language like “strong leadership” or “making tough decisions”. Self-absorbed people also use this as a technique for making themselves appear more statesman-like, when in fact it is more dictatorial and isolationist.
It’s useful to ask 5 questions when you recognise your feelings are based on fear:
What is the threat?
What is the likelihood and consequences of the threat happening?
Do we need to change our behaviour?
Will the behaviour change be consistent with our values? And
How is this related to our purpose?
A genuine leader can – and does - articulate clarity when answering each question, but the third question is especially important. If there is no behaviour change required then the reason for communicating (and thus spreading) the fear can only be to manipulate.
If you’re an exceptional leader, you’ve imagined something you believe worth achieving and have made it your purpose. Then you empower others to make decisions to help achieve that purpose. That requires that you encourage people to recognise and overcome their fears - to make the best decisions.