High Performing Leaders Replace Fears With Purpose

iStock_000015084196_SmallIn our work with CEOs and executives, we have found that leaders who actively start to replace their fears — or just give more importance to their higher purpose and goals — increase their effectiveness.

For example, I had one client who ran a highly visible non-profit organization, and who had developed an innovated strategy for how to serve underprivileged children. To implement her ideas, she needed to step out in a very public and visible way, writing, giving speeches and presentations. She really believed in her idea, but could not guarantee it would work, and was afraid of being seen and judged as a fraud by other leaders in the non-profit world.

Although she believed deeply in her vision, she found herself procrastinating when it came to networking, instead keeping herself occupied with busywork. As we talked through these behaviors, she realized there was an inner conflict between her fears and her bold new vision.  Not acting out her strategy made her feel out of integrity.

I coached her through the conflict by clarifying two things:

  1. Connect to the pain of her counterproductive behavior. Meaning when she procrastinated, and avoided doing what she needed to do, what was the pain associated with that?

In my client’s case, the pain she connected with was judging herself and feeling bad about herself because she knew she wasn’t doing what she was supposed to do. More painful was the sense that she was letting down her team members and the children she most wanted to serve.

  1. Connect with what she wanted and needed that was more important than her fears.  These are very personal, and could be a need, a value, a higher purpose.

My client felt a deep need to be authentic as a leader, and to feel a sense of integrity that her behaviors supported her core values and sense of purpose. By making a connection with this need, she was able to switch from focusing on her fears to focusing on her aspirations.

The aspirational higher purpose she connected with was her genuine desire to serve the children of the underprivileged communities her non-profit worked with. This really was her passion, and was much more important than her fears about how people might perceive her. As she cultivated this clarity, she became more bold, audacious and courageous in her actions and outreach to the community.

Today, her organization is held up as a pioneer in innovative support of underprivileged communities.

What core needs, values and higher purpose do you have that you can connect with that are bigger than your fears? We would love to hear your comments.

  1. Carole, what a great post. I really connected to your client’s experience about procrastinating to put off meaningful work. Sometimes I do that with my blog writing. I am concerned with how my ideas would be perceived, so I put others/activities ahead of myself. However, I remember that connecting with others about meaningful ideas brings great purpose to my life. That sure is a value that is much bigger than my fears.

    1. Carole Levy says:

      I’m not surprised you resonated with the concept since you’ve been consistently writing about it in your blog! Meaning, bringing higher purpose into our life to help us accomplish what we want to accomplish, even if it’s exercising or running. Thanks for your comment, Jon!

  2. Danny Fitzpatrick says:

    When I first got into a leadership role I just went through the motions and didn’t actively initiate anything myself. I was lucky enough to have a mentor that helped me see how to overcome the fears and focus on the purpose of my job. Ten years later I am confident in everything I do.

    1. Carole Levy says:

      Hi Danny, thanks for your comment. It’s wonderful that you had somebody who believed in your potential and mentored you.

  3. Lloyd Palmer says:

    Once in a position where we don’t let our fears take over, then we can grow professionally and privately. I know that once I overcame my fears with working with others I became much different and found myself more willing to step up and take charge.

    1. Carole Levy says:

      That’s great self-awareness. Often the difficulty is to be aware of our fears…

  4. Sherry Hanna says:

    So close to home! I often put work off, and I tell myself I work best under pressure. The fact is I also don’t want to disappoint anyone, especially myself. I also don’t always speak up at meeting because I don’t want others to think I don’t know what I am talking about. Seems I only speak up when I am definitely sure of my self.

    1. Carole Levy says:

      Woah, you are self-aware! I know, sometimes it’s not enough to change a behavior but that’s the first step. For a long time, I also didn’t want to speak up unless i had something extra-ordinary and super clear to share… Well, i wasn’t speaking often!

  5. Megan Solomon says:

    Each day I wake up and think about how I want to be percieved at work. I have been head of my department for nearly 3 years. I sometimes think I am a bit over the top, but I know I’m focused and I the vision is never lost.

    1. Carole Levy says:

      I like your comment because it made me think about a subtle difference: Focusing on how I want to be perceived by others, can also be a way to focus on my goals. It’s different than focusing on how i want to be perceived by others, because I’m anxious of being judged.

  6. The Gentle Don says:

    Wonderful story about your client. Thanks for sharing. I have a lot of respect for anyone to take on a non profit for children.

    1. Carole Levy says:

      Thanks for your comment. I also respect a lot all of these non profit people who are giving a lot of themselves to improve other’s life. I’m glad my company can support some of them.

  7. Sandra Starr says:

    I have been in her shoes, too. I have found myself almost hiding at times rather than doing what needs to be done out of fear of not doing the best job possible. I know I have judged others in my position and I never want anyone to think I am not doing a top notch job.

    1. Carole Levy says:

      Thank you for being so honest! Procrastination is definitively connected to perfectionism.

  8. romperstomper says:

    My biggest need is that people percieve me as a quality worker. I just can turn in work if I feel it isn’t the best it can be.

    1. Carole Levy says:

      That’s great to be focused on being a quality worker. The issue is when the fear of not being perceived as a quality worker takes over our goals. It means that we are more focused on our “image” than on our purpose. It’s been helpful for me to dissociate the two.

  9. verd says:

    I have been lucky. I have always been able to focus on my personal vision and that of my company. I have worked with a few others who remind me of your client. I knew they were capable of more and often they fell short and seemed to take it very hard. A few of them moved on to other things, but 2 still work with me and have appeared to overcome any fears they may have had of disappointing others.

  10. Wellhung says:

    I have felt the same way. I often close myself in my office and keep busy rather than getting out and networking. I know I can do a good job because I have in the past. I always thought I was introverted and if I wasn’t in the mood to talk, I just stayed to myself.

    1. Carole Levy says:

      Thanks for your comment. I know lots of people who procrastinate with “networking”! For lots of us, it’s a challenging area. I followed a great webinar called “Networking naturally” and it was all about being connected to the goal of adding value to others when we network, versus “taking” something from others. Another way to speak about Fears versus Purpose.

  11. Vernon Gibbs says:

    I’ve been aware of my own conflict between my fears and the vision I have for my company. I have 34 employees and I wonder how much more growth I could have if I could let go of some fears. I am fully aware of my vision, I just sometimes have trouble staying focused.

    1. Carole Levy says:

      Thanks Vernon. I know a great entrepreneur who used to say: “If i wasn’t afraid today, what would I do?”. Your comment made me think of this quote. It would be interesting for you to explore what distracts you from staying focused and what do you avoid, when you are distracted. Food for thought.

  12. Laura MacDonald says:

    After reading this I wonder if this is the reason I haven’t gone as far in my job as I would like to have by now. I see the similarities between what you wrote of your client and myself. Now I just have to do something about it.

    1. Carole Levy says:

      Awareness is definitively the first step to change a behavior. Then, learning to overcome our fears, it’s another story. That’s what we do in our workshops.

  13. Marcus Curry says:

    My conflict is similar to your client. I judge myself, but only to the point of wishing I was doing more. I don’t feel I am letting other down, only myself sometimes.

    1. Carole Levy says:

      Thanks for your comment. Lots of us go to self-judgment when we don’t do what we know we want to do. For some people self-judgment is stimulating, but for most of us, it adds a layer to the inertia. It’s hard to be gentle with ourself and accept that we are a fallible human being.

  14. Cameron Spence says:

    At one time or another I think procrastination is everyone’s middle name. I have been there…a lot. It took a cognitive effort on my part to overcome it. Now I focus on my purpose each day and work towards it.

    1. Carole Levy says:

      Thanks for your comment. You’re right, we all know about procrastination. A clear purpose is definitively a great tool to step out of procrastination. I like also to reconnect with the pain, the malaise I feel when i procrastinate. Everything but that!

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