Acknowledge Your Emotions, but Do Not be Driven by Fear

Hopefully, we all have learned much from the last few months and hopefully we have learned the right things.

One of the things that has been illustrated at an incredible scope is that people, and especially decision-makers, can be easily manipulated by fear. We have known that for a long time and Chip and Dan Heath in their excellent book Switch give a great example in The Rider, the Elephant, and the Path. In their illustration, the Elephant represents our emotions and the Rider represents our logic – it is obvious which is more powerful. When the Elephant is frightened, the Rider has little control.

We have seen some very poor decisions made by experienced leaders because their decisions were driven by fear and never subjected to the test of logic or rational thought.

There were several different types of fear in operation in my opinion:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear of sickness and death
  • Fear of not doing enough and being wrong
  • The fear of being set apart and being rejected by others
  • and the biggest fear of all – fear of doing something that did not meet the approval of the social media “mob”.

We have seen rational people, leaders of organizations in many cases, being driven to make decisions to conform to the prevailing online sentiments and if a leader dares to apply logic and ask hard questions, they are often subjected to online shaming.

As leaders, we have the hard task of acknowledging our emotions, but then subjecting those emotional thoughts to the rational part of our brain, asking hard probing questions so that when we do make decisions they are the best decisions that we can make for the people we lead. Part of the “suffering and sacrifice” that Patrick Lencioni talks about in his book The Motive, is, in my opinion, the willingness of leaders to make the best decision they can even when it goes against popular sentiment and they know that they will receive abuse because of their decisions.

While we have seen this at an extraordinary scope over the last few months, this is actually something that happens almost daily in our organizations. We are almost daily faced with the pressure to make decisions that are popular with our colleagues versus those decisions that are best, but not as popular. Most of us want to be liked and to be popular, but as I read somewhere once (I apologize as I do not remember the source) “If you want to be popular, don’t be a leader – sell ice cream.”.

Acknowledge your emotions and those of the people you lead in your organization, but do not be driven by them. Become self-managed so that you can make emotionally intelligent and rationally thought out decisions that are best in the long run for the people you lead.