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  • Writer's pictureTerry Dockery


Since we live in a society in which we have freedom of choice, the primary limiters of our happiness and success are our unrealistic fears.

We all have them. They're usually in place by the time we're six years old, and they're difficult to change because they still feel as real at sixty as they did at six ("What do you mean it's okay to disagree with authority figures? Are you crazy; that's dangerous!")

This is especially important for leaders to understand, because their decisions affect so many other people. Their weaknesses become the weaknesses of the organization that they're leading because they hold the reins of power.

Here are four habits resulting from unrealistic fears that lead to poor leadership and unnecessary limitations on organizational performance.

1. Lacking integrity. Being trusted by your followers is essential for leadership success. People trust you when you do what you say you're going to do. Trust is the cornerstone of teamwork, and teamwork is the cornerstone of organizational performance.

If you don't tell the truth, including making exaggerated promises that you can't keep, then you lack integrity. The unrealistic fear here is that the truth isn't "good enough" to avoid rejection from others.

2. Bullying. People who engage in bullying were bullied themselves. Someone taught them that human interactions are always a win-lose affair, and they're absolutely terrified of being on the losing end of relationships.

Since the #1 predictor of leadership success is your followers feeling cared about, this won't play to your advantage. You can easily recognize organizations led by a bully because the standing order is "the beatings will continue until morale improves." You'll also see hyper-criticizing of others as "not good enough" and, believe it or not, name calling (perhaps you thought that grownups stopped doing this after grade school; not so).

The unrealistic fear here is the leader not feeling confident enough about themselves to engage in more egalitarian win-win relating; they need to lord their position power over others to cover their fear.

3. Being impetuous. We all have emotional impulses all day long. Wise and mature people think about these impulses before acting on them.

My favorite mentor told me "You don't really care about someone unless you've thought about strangling them with your bare hands!" You probably don't want to act on that temporary impulse toward someone you care about.

Maturity and wisdom result from a good integration of your thinking and your feelings over time ("What will happen after I do this? How will it affect the people I care about?"). Without this integration you get a "ready, fire, aim" approach to decision making that can lead to destructive leadership decisions.

The unrealistic fear here is that if your feelings aren't expressed immediately you'll somehow lose the opportunity to have your needs met at all.

4. Ignoring the facts. To be successful an organization must be "data driven." We all have strongly-held biases and opinions, and this makes us subject to the "tyranny of our own limited experience" when we make decisions.

When facts are available we need to use them to our advantage. As leaders we ignore them at our peril (and that of others). The unrealistic fear here is that going against your strong emotions is always dangerous--sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't depending upon the facts.

High-Performance Habits

  1. Identify your unrealistic fears--this is best accomplished with help from a skilled guide.

  2. Overcome your unrealistic fears--this also is best accomplished with help from a skilled guide.

  3. For the greatest happiness and leadership success, use both rational intelligence (e.g, knowing the facts) and emotional intelligence (e.g., knowing your unrealistic fears) when making decisions.

Copyright Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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