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Trust and fearlessness – their relationship for the leader

Why is it so difficult for us to trust others? And how does this affect our leadership style? Join the course to learn more!
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When we start to look further at the question of trust, it is helpful to ask the question: why is it so difficult for us to trust others?

Clearly we may have had bad experiences when we trusted before, for instance as a child. Children in general are very trusting, so at some point(s) someone will have broken that trust. We then have learnt to be more wary and, as the Ladder of Inference shows us, we may start looking out for situations where we think we should not trust, even if this is happening in our subconscious. We are experiencing ‘confirmation bias’, where we actively seek to confirm our view of the world, and if we find we are right then that just helps to continue this ‘loop’ where we reinforce again and again the ‘fact’ that others are not to be trusted.

But so what, if we trust and are disappointed? What will actually happen to us? Often in situations we face, the outcome is not that bad. It can be up to us as to how much damage is done, for instance if we allow ourselves to lose confidence, feel we are not liked/loved, feel let down, and have our plans spoiled. There might be some situations that are more serious, for instance if someone does something particularly unpleasant and e.g. causes us to lose a promotion, cheats us out of something tangible that we had set our sights on, or indeed steals from us. But in many cases we are afraid to trust without a strong reason, and the fear we experience is a worse enemy in fact – as Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said in his inaugural speech: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear…is fear itself.”

We see that a common trait in leaders, given the destructive nature of fear (it can not only prevent you from building beneficial, trusting relationships, but it can also paralyse you and prevent you from taking action when needed), is to exhibit seeming fearlessness, or courage.

I say ‘seeming’, as leaders will often say they felt fear, but they took command of their feelings, deciding fear was the real enemy, and they did whatever it was anyway. There are a few things which can help you in reducing your level of fear in order to function effectively as a leader. For example, dependent on the type of situation:

• having a rational discussion with yourself to explore why you don’t really need to be afraid or, alternatively, why fear will do you no good whatsoever and is pointless

• using humour to diminish the feeling of fear

• facing into the fear, and examining the feeling very carefully, rather than trying not to think about it – this has been shown to reduce the feeling

• considering what’s the worst thing that could happen

• anchoring yourself in your beliefs and values, and

• remembering (if the case) that this is not a life and death situation; there is always a solution, and we don’t need fear and anxiety in the modern world of business as much as we might think.

As Roosevelt indicates, fear is a very debilitating emotion, and leaders understand that and confront their fears so that they can be manageable at the least. They show courage in the face of adversity, we might say, but this is because they have their fear under control.

Roosevelt also said: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” This is also a useful way leaders can look at things and be courageous – they focus on something other than the fear, as they explicitly acknowledge it as being more important. This might be, for instance, that the most important thing is to keep others calm and motivated, or it might be that the most important thing is to complete an action which will reduce the likelihood of the thing we fear happening – etc.

Another quote which is helpful is that of Scarlet O’Hara in the film ‘Gone with the Wind’, when she says “After all, tomorrow is another day.” When we are anxious, by reflecting on how life continues, and how the last time we felt like this, things did get better and a new day without fear dawned, we can put things into perspective. It gives us hope, and hope is something we all need in order to survive, as explained by Viktor Frankl, the Nazi war camp survivor. So leaders need to have hope, and be able to engender it in others, – another ‘antidote’ to fear and anxiety.

And in the words of Will Smith, the actor: “Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me: danger is very real, but fear is a choice.”

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Introduction to Applied Leadership and Self-Development: The Fundamental Tools

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