If you’re a leader or an HR professional, one of your jobs is to help others grow, whether through developing new skills or encouraging them to take the leap to new responsibilities. But just because you’re confident the person’s ready for the next step, it doesn’t mean the employee is. Even an employee who’s been asking for the promotion or appealing to get involved with high-profile projects can suddenly get cold feet when that dream turns into a reality.
It’s not all that surprising when you think about it, though. Change, even welcome change, can be scary. You’re entering the unknown, the expectations are high and you have a lot to learn. And we know that learning is uncomfortable. So, when you’re working with someone who seems reluctant to take a big step, or maybe they’re struggling in a new role, the culprit might be something very simple and primal: fear.
If the employee doesn’t learn how to deal with those fears, it can be severely limiting. Many will give up before they have the chance to prove—to themselves as well as others—what they’re really capable of.
Strategies for Dealing with Fear
So how can you help your employees deal with their fears so they can get to the good stuff? A great place to start, particularly if you’ve already worked with them on understanding how they think and how their thinking styles impact their work, is to help them recognize that discomfort is a sign that they’re learning. The neurons are firing. This is a good sign! The challenge is that, unlike the reward-seeking teenage brain, the adult brain is more fearful of potential risk and danger than it is excited about the possible gains of something new and different. But people can build up their risk tolerance by changing their mindset.
You can also give them some tools to help them actively define and combat the fears they’re dealing with.
Tim Ferriss says that the actor Jamie Foxx taught him how to disarm fear. From that lesson, Ferriss developed his own technique that he uses whenever he faces a new situation that scares him. It’s a quick and straightforward exercise that your employees can use to better understand what they’re afraid of and what they can do to address those fears.
From there, you might have them try this easy-to-remember Whole Brain ® approach to a situation, called the “4 Ps.” No matter what their thinking style is, this framework will allow them to look at a new challenge, role or responsibility from all perspectives so that they can not only get more clarity about what they have to do but also find the safety nets and support to make what seems scary a little less threatening.
4 Ps for a New Position, Role or Challenge
What are the expectations? Get excruciatingly clear on exactly what the metrics of success look like, what specific outcomes are expected and what the deliverables are. When you have clarity, those things that can seem overwhelming on the surface will begin to seem a lot more doable, and you’ll know exactly what you’re shooting for.
What are the critical processes that lead to success in this particular role or task? Process is another way to get your arms around what needs to be done and to put some stepping stones in place to get you where you want to go. You may also find that you need to get some training to use these processes. So make sure you understand what processes will help you be successful, how they work and what you need to do to get comfortable with them.
Who can help? This may be support systems, like mentors, coaches and peer groups, or leaders and HR partners, but it could also be collaborators on the team or even those who report to you. Be authentically curious and open to understanding what others have to offer—and what you can offer them. If interpersonal thinking is one of your lesser preferred thinking styles, this probably won’t come naturally to you, so you’ll have to be intentional about it. But you’ll find the road is a lot less scary when you don’t have to walk it alone.
Fear is a natural reaction to the unknown or something you have no experience with. But another way to look at it is that you’re coming in fresh, which means you’ll see things that others may not. It’s actually a privileged place to be. So instead of thinking about this new challenge or responsibility just in terms of the risks and dangers, consider the opportunities and possibilities that you have before you. Excitement and fear aren’t that far apart. Decide to go for the excitement.
Encouraging people to grow and take risks is part of being a great leader. But make sure you’re giving them the tools to deal with the discomfort or fear they might experience along the way. Otherwise, everyone may lose out—and that’s a truly scary thought.