Opinion by Thought Leaders
Read the latest opinions from tech & business pros across the globe.

Why Fear is Every Leader’s Worst Enemy

 

What do leaders struggle with? High-achieving performers and executives generally direct their attention to practical matters regarding execution of strategies, completion of large initiatives, revenue generation and so much more. Obviously, lofty goals come with their own challenges to face on the path of continued success for the individual and the organization. While it's tempting to throw tools and training of all kinds at high performers to support their endeavors, is that what leaders truly need? Is it really as simple as offering additional strategic and tactical advice?

If the answer was yes, then no company anywhere would find it challenging to reach their goals and realize their vision with the right talent in the mix.

Because humans are involved, it's not that simple. Businesses and HR departments spend a lot of time and energy trying to find programs and approaches that will equip their high performers with tools rather than taking the time to find out what makes their leaders and innovators tick. Personality tests are helpful, but they are limited in their utility. Likewise, skills- and habit-focused training is somewhat generic in that there's often a one-size-fits-most, formulaic approach. The truth is that there is no out-of-the-box test, training, or formula that will succeed in moving a leader forward if there's an underlying reason why the individual hesitates to do what needs to be done in the first place. Typically, there is an underlying reason, and it's a common one despite evidence of outward success.

That reason is fear.

Yes, fear. We tend to believe that the more success someone has, the less fear is a factor in how they think and operate. In my experience as an executive coach, that's simply not true. In fact, as the perceived stakes become higher with more responsibility and status, fear becomes more complex. It may not show up in recognizable form, making it harder to trace to the root cause. Perhaps fear shows up as hesitation to take action or have a difficult conversation. It frequently shows up in the form of procrastination, as it's easier to put something off than face the reasons why they won't take it on. It can also manifest as time spent on areas that are less critical. It's more comfortable to focus on a less complicated action or project rather than deal with the real priority because there's risk and uncertainty involved.

To further complicate matters, being near the top of an organization can be isolating. Who can you be vulnerable with? Can you be truthful without being punished for doing so? Will what you share be used against you? Will the truth of the leader's experience make them appear weak and poorly equipped to handle their role? Whether these concerns are based in reality or not, sharing vulnerabilities and asking for support is perceived as too big of a risk to take.

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High-Functioning Disabilities at Work: A Roadmap for Success

 

If you are a high-functioning individual suffering from a mental or behavioral health ailment (which may or may not be protected under the disabilities act for reasonable accommodation), your daily life at work is quite possibly a tough battle. A tougher one possibly than of those who are off-work on leave and therefore, although quite possibly much more debilitated, can have some level of control on the amount of uncertainties that will disrupt their wellbeing. Whether you are depressed but your severe phases come in cycles, or are a GAD (general anxiety disorder) sufferer who can pull through most of the days but not all, or suffer from a Psychosis that occasionally manifests at work but doesn’t completely impede your ability to be employed, you are someone who shows up to work and does great (either because or in-spite of your disorder) while pedaling like Stanford ducks underneath the surface. You either didn’t disclose your disability at work, or even if you have, will not avail (unless it’s the last option) the ‘reasonable accommodations’ available to you. But most challenging is the fact that no one talks about the likes of you. There are no career development articles, best known methods, behavioral guidelines, leadership skills, that will acknowledge you, let alone provide direction. No one wants to talk about us. We ourselves don’t want to deal with the not normal parts of our otherwise normal days. But we are the new normal. Mental health at work is becoming more and more a matter with work and life complexities skyrocketing. So, the counsellor’s couch toolsets need to come into the mainstream career conversations, not just tip toe-d around in chapter seven of self-help books.

This is an even bigger problem for women because of unhelpful gender stereo-typing and unfair labelling. Hormonal. Emotional. Un-professional. No, we are not, but men are in majority and therefore, ‘testosterone-ic’ behaviors are considered professionally more acceptable, and even downright desirable, even when they are outcomes of the same struggles that manifest as tears for women. Reactions are also grouped, and gender labelled, instead of categorization by mental health condition which could serve the helpful purpose of mental health awareness.

I have had to craft my own guidelines, success definitions, and daily steps. The first step is to address head on the fact that we, and others like us, exist. Note: this doesn’t suggest mandatory declaration or disclosure. In fact, my advice on that is to tread very carefully irrespective of what printed policies say. There’s a lot of progress still to be made on unconscious bias and mental health awareness. But we need to ruthlessly trash any of the shame we might feel within ourselves. And then, we need to be aware of signs in others that would require us to have higher self-control and greater compassion. Empathy is one gift out of this curse, and we should take advantage of that by being the higher EQ individuals in the room. We will need that to shield us against our behavioral ‘eccentricities’ which we will not be able to always control. We also have to take a social responsibility, if I may call it so, to be vocal in our own ways possible appropriately. Finding a tribe, an outlet, and working to help a cause that affect us daily is a great strength provider, and the base of this pyramid that I will try to build here for excellence at work for the likes of us.

There are two well-known principles I am going to base this roadmap on. One is the known concept of run the business, grow the business, transform the business (or you might have heard it as keep today secured, plan for tomorrow, transform the future – or similar – you get the theme). This is a familiar concept for business. Now think of this and apply this to what I’d like to call a ‘self-aware roadmap for career sustenance and development’. First, acknowledge that you have some limitations, know what they are, what your triggers are, and have foolproof, well-practiced plan for managing them. First for today, and then for tomorrow. Below are some tips on that.

Meditation and Mindfulness

This horse has probably been beaten to death, but not in a way that can work for high-functioning strugglers who need some tools while at work. Focusing on your breath while driving to work on your worst days and forcing yourself to continuously re-ground through tools like counting, concentrating on a sound, tapping is something you need to not only know of, but also have written down somewhere to be able to use regularly. It takes a bit of time and on our worse days, a lot of determination, but eventually the calming effect of focusing on the moment starts becoming more and more apparent.

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Health and Wellness of Successful Leaders

 

Taking care of yourself is a key part of being a successful leader. To that end, it's necessary to build in time for yourself to ensure you're putting your best self forward every day. "Health and wellness" will mean different things to different people. To some, it may mean eating cleaner, cutting out processed foods and making smarter choices with natural, whole foods. To others it means finally establishing a regular exercise routine every morning before hitting the office. To others it may mean taking 15 minutes out of the day to meditate or do yoga, or even start parking far from the building in order to get a walk in twice daily. Perhaps to you, it means taking steps to reduce the anxiety and stress that is infiltrating your life.   Whatever the case may be, health and wellness should be a priority for every leader.


Prioritizing Health for Success

As a leader, you're more vulnerable to stress than others. As a result of putting others first as well as your growing business, you may have been neglecting your own health, happiness and well-being. It may work for awhile, but no one can keep that up for very long. The sad result is often failure and burnout. With burnout comes a loss of productivity, which is never good for anyone's bottom line -- or health for that matter. The recipe for long-term success begins and ends with you.

At its core, leadership is about the ability to set a vision and persist over the long run as you lead yourself and others to take on the challenges of running a successful business. Taking care of yourself now will impact your energy levels and stamina over the long haul. Yet so many leaders ignore this simple fact and just keep running on empty. As your tasks grow bigger and the work piles up day after day, it's understandable that self-care will be relegated to the back burner to make way for more critical priorities.  But while it's understandable, it's also not OK. Those who don’t prioritize their health can become fatigued, stressed, dehydrated, sick and yes, unbearable to work with. This pattern of behavior is more common than you might think. One thing is for sure: managing your health is a vital part of being not only a successful leader but an effective human being too.


Stress: It's a Killer

You didn't get where you are today by shying away from challenges and the stress that comes with it. But just because you've made it this long doesn't mean you're immune. Some day, it will affect your ability to be a successful leader, and that's science talking. You may blame your nagging headaches, frequent insomnia and decreased productivity on illness. However, stress may be at the root of it all. Stress symptoms can affect your whole body, as well as your well-being, thoughts, feelings and behavior. It can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and obesity, and can increase your risk for heart attack, says the Mayo Clinic.   Common effects of stress on your body include:

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Change in sex drive
  • Upset stomach
  • Difficulty sleeping

In addition to the physical health side effects of stress, there's also mood to contend with. It can lead to anxiety, depression, restlessness, lack of motivation and focus, and irritability. 

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Succeeding in the Business of Life

 

Success in business is akin to success in life: hard work pays off. Life is simply better when you're on your game, and when you excel in deed, word and thought, you exude that confidence to others, whether that's your spouse or your colleagues. So, how can you operate at your very best every single day and motivate the people around you to do the same? Here is some advice on succeeding in the business of life.

Embrace Your Uniqueness

Explore your uniqueness...what makes you YOU? Is it your leadership style? Is it your enthusiasm and zest for life? Is it your never-back-down attitude? Is it your propensity to be kind to everyone no matter their status in your organization? Those are all great qualities to explore. Your uniqueness also stems from your personality and those daily quirks that make you endearing to others. Decide what your differentiator is, embrace those traits that make you uniquely qualified, experienced and interesting, and channel the confidence that is sure to evoke a positive response in others, says Inc.
 

Don't be Afraid to Take a Gamble

Successful people don't get where they are by always playing it safe. They aren't afraid to take a risk, take the road less traveled, stifle their fears and truly go after something they want. In fact, the best entrepreneurs are gamblers by nature. Yes, it's risky but it can also be incredibly rewarding and  fun. Successful entrepreneurs combine a healthy tolerance for risk with diligence, backed by diverse experience. They aren't afraid to fail, learn and repeat, over and over again. Those trials and failures are what will make you a better person and ultimately more successful in the business of life.

Assume Everything is Possible

Successful people don't cower from challenges, or take a Negative Nelly attitude to any project that is proposed. Instead, they assume everything is possible until it's proven impossible. Not everything will work out, to be sure. But when faced with a challenge, think of it first and foremost as overcome-able. Open your mind to consideration of every solution, always defaulting to "yes." This open mind will allow new ideas to infiltrate your business life that you never thought possible before.
 

Scare Yourself a Little

If you're terrified to get up in front of people to speak at conferences, take a public speaking class to get better at it. If you have a bit of anxiety meeting people in business or social situations, push yourself out of your comfort zone and attend parties, gatherings and work events. Perhaps it goes a little deeper than business, and you want to conquer something death defying, like skydiving. Whatever makes you push the envelope and scare yourself a little will only force you to grow as an entrepreneur and individual, advises Success.

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How to Be Your Most Productive You

 

At the end of the work week, you may look back exhausted at the 60 hours or more that you put in at the office and be dismayed at all the work you actually didn't get done. But you were there every day, from sun up to sun down. You had meetings, company lunches, hours of work at your desk each day. Why couldn't you get it all done? Are you feeling less than satisfied with what you've been accomplishing? It's likely not your lack of drive that's to blame. It's more likely that you're unproductive, failing to make the best use of your time. One of the keys to success is using your time wisely, rather than spinning your wheels and exhausting yourself. So, how can you be more productive in your work and life?

Set Clear Goals

Take some time to plan out your goals, or clarify and adjust the ones you already have. Seeing them on paper can push those goals into reality rather than something that's just floating around your head. Set both personal and business goals for the long and short term. Identify the goal, be specific, and set a time frame. This will help keep you accountable. To avoid procrastination, set clear and concise time frames for an added challenge, suggests Forbes. Don't forget to add in any setbacks you may predict that could roll back your goal. 

Stop the Excuses and Distractions

Setbacks and distractions have the power to weaken your goals and defeat you. Come up with a strategy that allows you to push through those challenges, past the pain, and into the pleasure of accomplishment. Adopt a laser focus to that one task, every day, reaching your goal closer and closer. Set priorities within the task. What has to be done first? What can wait a bit? Think about what you are currently doing: does it serve your goal or pull you away from it?

Embrace Your Strengths

Only YOU know YOU! If you do your best work first thing in the morning, follow that urge. If you do better late at night, burn the midnight oil and take advantage of your creative juices. Perhaps you do your best work after your fitness routine. Do you work best from home or does the chaos of a busy office fuel you? Whatever it is, identify the environments in which you thrive and get to work. Don't fight them. Working against your instincts will burn your energy and productivity.

Set Aside Time

Each day, set aside time for extreme focus for at least 90 minutes. Put away the phone, don't touch your email, tell your co-workers not to disturb. Use this block of time to work solely on your goal. Once finished, that sense of accomplishment will drive you forward another day.

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Why We Need Mental Toughness

 

Do you feel constantly behind the eight ball? Are you chasing the elusive definition of SUCCESS every single day but it's always just out of your grasp? Your mental strength may need some fine tuning. There are many reasons why certain people are more successful in business and other aspects of life than others, and mental toughness is one of those deciding factors that puts them over the top. Everyone has mental strength to varying degrees. It's what you do with what you have, and how you create and develop what you don't have, that can separate you from the pack.

Mental toughness is defined as the ability to work hard, be persistent, and respond with resiliency when faced with failure or adversity. It's an inner quality -- not easy to quantify -- that enables a person to stick to their long-term goals no matter what. Grit...determination...unwavering focus on the end goal. These are all words to describe people with mental agility and strength. That's great. But how do you get it and why do you need it?

Tips for Becoming Mentally Stronger

Working your mental muscle doesn't just fall in your lap. You have to work at it, not just periodically but every single day. Inc describes remarkably successful people as being great at delaying gratification, withstanding temptation, overcoming fear, and prioritizing consistently. Here are some habits of professionals who master mental toughness. Try these tips in your own life.

Always Act in Control

Notice how we didn't say "always BE in control." There's a big difference between being a leader and being a dictator. You can't possibly be right or have total control over things 100 percent of the time. We're talking more here about the illusion of control through confidence in your daily life. Many people assume luck has a lot to do with success; however, successful people will tell you luck may play a small role but they didn't wait for luck to carry them through. They act like success -- and by extension, failure -- is well within their control. Remember that old Dry Idea antiperspirant commercial that said "never let them see you sweat"? Well, the same principle applies here: never let them see you out of control.

Don't Waste Mental Power on Things You Can't Control

Mentally tough people rarely waste brain power on things in which they have no ability to impact. Mental strength, like muscle strength, doesn't come with an unlimited supply. It must be used wisely. Misdirected worry saps you of the energy to focus your mind on more important areas of your life, funneling the important stuff off to the side. Instead, do the greatest good in areas that you can.

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Creating Highly Successful Habits

 

We look at them with envy. We want what they have: that charisma, that business success, that certain something that makes them stand out from a crowd. They are highly successful people, and they are envied. What do they have that you don't? Turns out, they have dedication and an unflagging sense of persistence. That's not all. They have a laser beam focus on the end game and the best path to get there. They don't let distractions get in the way, they broaden their minds every single day, they put their health first and they have a PLAN. Not just for tomorrow but for a decade, two, three from now.

Creating highly successful habits in your own personal and professional life doesn't take an MBA. It doesn't even take a lot of cash. Here are some habits of successful people and how they view life just a little bit differently from the rest of us.

Talk to Yourself

Even at the top of your game, even when you're bringing in the numbers that make everyone else jealous, there's another level that goes beyond honing skills to be even technically better. It involves perfecting your internal dialogue. Research suggests that talking to yourself like you would to someone else in your same situation can help you better handle stressful experiences, says Business Insider.

Make a Plan

Many people wait till the morning when they get behind their desk to make a plan for the upcoming eight hours. Successful people are one step ahead -- they do it the night before. Getting off track is easy when you don't have a plan. It's even easier when you wait till the last minute to make that plan. Without looking ahead as early as the night before, you won't really know what you want to accomplish and how to get there. By the time you make a plan in the morning, already an hour has gone by and you've wasted critical energy that could be better spent on productivity. Give yourself clear goals the night before your day and you'll be able to wake up and hit the ground running, advises Success.

Eliminate the Negatives

The secret to planning, then, is to begin with the negatives and systematically eliminate them from your path to success, advises Early to Rise. First, identify the obstacles in your path. It can be something as simple as hitting snooze five times in the morning or as complex as not hitting your sales goals for the quarter. Isolate the obstacle, then develop two solutions for each, as having both a Plan A and a Plan B virtually guarantees you will stay focused.

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Keeping Your Goals in Focus

 

Eyes on the prize: this is the mantra of many leaders in business. This laser focus commitment to goals is certainly noble, certainly something to aspire to. But in reality, it can be quite difficult to keep those goals front of mind, especially when you're trying to lead a company fraught with distractions at every turn. You're likely confronted with many choices every single day: bottom line vs. company direction, sales vs. strategy. Sometimes the two can coexist. Sometimes they can't. So how can you keep your goals for success in focus as the leader of your organization?

Persistence

Self-doubt. Negative thoughts that stifle creativity. Lack of change despite efforts. All of these things can creep in and threaten your ability to remain focused on the end goal. But even when your goals seem out of reach, the key is to stay motivated. Try these strategies:

  • Surround yourself with positive people. Feeding your soul with positivity surrounded by those who only have your best interests at heart can bolster your resolve and lift you up. Brainstorm. Ask for opinions. As a result, you may find a solution you never realized was right in front of you. Isolation can be the biggest road block to goals of success.
  • Keep the big picture in your crosshairs. When your attention sways to the daily minutiae of company operations, your focus on the end game can shift all too easily. Sometimes just having a big sticky note or picture of your goal in front of your face all day, every day, can serve as the reminder you need to stay on track, says Entrepreneur. We all need to be re-energized every now and then.
  • Reach out for help. If you're stuck in a rut, don't be too proud as to fail to ask for help. Go to your boss, a manager or a mentor. It doesn't always have to be someone above you. Just the act of reaching out can bring a new light to your dilemma and open the door you need to step forward.

Perseverance

If you, like everyone else on the planet, has ever developed a goal and then failed, you probably know the crushing defeat you feel. Sometimes you even forget what your goals are. You may even get frustrated, feeling that your plans failed you. However, it's actually the other way around. Every goal set is achievable; it's usually the person setting the goal that gives up on it mid-way. The goal setting is the easy part. Even the implementation is easy. It's the follow-through that gets most people by the throat.

Distraction isn't taboo. It's normal. Embrace it, know it will happen, then do all you can to avoid it. Try these strategies to persevering even in the face of the apathy that can creep in so slowly you don't even know it's there until it's sapped you of your will to reach your goals.

  • Narrow down your goals: If you find yourself losing focus too easily, it could be that you're over-burdening yourself. Instead of setting a checklist of lofty goals, stick with between one and three. Don't even think of other goals until you can check those off. Reaching your full vision on two goals is much more effective than making partial progress on five goals that never see a resolution.
  • Compile a vision board: This is essentially a collection of pictures and images that represent your goals and dreams. Designed to help you more clearly visualize your end goals, a vision board can inspire you to take consistent action, points out Business Insider. It can also remind you of your goals every day when you glance at the board, so put it in a prominent place in order to reinforce your goals daily.
  • Break down your goals into manageable chunks: One overwhelming goal can actually distance you from the vision. Instead of setting one large goal, break it up into several small ones that you can check off after you've achieved them. This will reduce the chances of discouragement and procrastination. Taking a breather in between can bolster your confidence and inspire you to go on.
  • Track results: How can you know if you're getting closer to your goal if you don't track results? Identify one to two performance metrics and review them daily or weekly, whatever works for you. View them as a connection to your end goal -- a weathervane of guidance, if you will. Use these metrics to stay on track or adjust your plan as needed.

The crux of any goal is to create a set of action plans, followed by immediate action to keep positive momentum moving forward. Success can only come about by persistence, perseverance, and consistent follow-through.

 
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