When you first found yourself making a presentation or a speech in front of a group, what was the advice people gave you? I am sure, like me, it was a universal phrase, “Picture them naked.” That way you will not be as nervous. Not doubt we have all had this kind of advice and some may have actually tried picturing their audience with no clothes. FYI: if I have been in your audience, please don’t tell me….keep it to yourself. I can’t say I have followed this advice specifically but after all the presentations and classes taught over my career, I still get nervous and conjure information about my audience that will calm me down.
Fear and doubt are natural human characteristics. These traits are what can keep great leaders grounded. It is what keeps them in touch on a personal level with those that work for them. But, fear and doubt are also the two most common barriers to leaders being successful. Fear and doubt can result in behaviors that create an untenable and non productive environment where no one wants to work. Leaders who have learned how to handle nerves and approach new experiences using fear and doubt as agents for personal development tend to be admired by those who follow them.
Bobby Knight may be one of the most recognizable examples of leadership gone bad. For a time he was able to form teams of highly talented and motivated players who executed as a unit, who graduated within four years, and won 902 games, more than any other Division I team. At Indiana, the Hoosiers won three national championships under his leadership and he also coached the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal. He motivated his team through fits of temper, irrational outbursts, arrogance and mean spirited temper tantrums. Fear of losing? Doubt in his ability to get a win?
Abraham Lincoln on the other hand is an example of a cool head under pressure. He was aware of his own fears and doubts and had the ability to control his emotions and work through his team to great effect. According to Doris Kearns Goodwin, a Lincoln biographer, he treated those he worked with well. However, he did get angry and frustrated, so he found a way to channel those emotions. He was known to sit down and write what he referred to as a “hot letter” to the individual he was angry with and then he would set the letter aside and not send it. If he did lose his temper, Lincoln would follow up with a kind gesture or letter to let the individual know he was not holding a grudge, said Kearns Goodwin.
After reading the Time Magazine article titled “What Makes Powerful Men Behave So Badly,” you wonder how many leaders have taken fear and doubt to an untenable extreme. How many of us has been at the mercy of a narcissistic boss and how many have had promising careers derailed as a result. It doesn’t matter whether you are male or female, the impact to your self esteem is devastating and only the brave survive. I mean by brave those who have the guts and wherewithal to look the ego laden, power hungry boss or leader in the eye and walk away knowing there is something better to be found.
In the extreme, fear and doubt manifests as pure selfishness. A purely selfish boss says by his action that only what he thinks and feels is what counts. No one else, especially those who report to him, matters. Ultimately people get tired of the boss and they do the one thing that such bosses fear the most; they tune them out. They simply stop listening and stop following. Oh yes, they comply in order to get the work done, but they fail to commit to excellence. And then, the team fails. And the boss is laid naked, fear and doubt for all to see.
Questions or Feedback? Email: Donna Yurdin