Overcoming Fear using Tribal Leadership

A typical meeting in most organizations is a murky soup of finger-pointing, defensiveness, arguing, fact-avoiding, and disengagement. Usually it’s a cold war characterized by a nagging lack of productivity, but it can quickly escalate into open hostility when the going gets tough.

These are hallmarks of Stage Two and Three cultures, and they are solidly rooted in fear – usually fear of failing, not being liked, being wrong, or being in uncomfortable situations. You can open the door to the authentic partnership of a Stage Four “we’re great” culture by using the following tools to remove fear:

  1. Build triads in which people relate to one another through Core Values.
  2. Eliminate “no,” “but,” and “however,” from your vocabulary. Those words are a not-so-subtle way of saying I’m right and you’re wrong – a powerful fear trigger.
  3. Use processes like Six Thinking Hats to interrupt the unconscious tendency to shoot each other down.
  4. Re-evaluate “carrot and stick” incentives. Dan Pink provides ample evidence of just how counter-productive these can be in his TED talk. Is that big project bonus really motivating, or is it just creating fear of failure?
  5. Give people a reason to want to overcome their fear by articulating and reinforcing the tribe’s Noble Cause.

By eliminating common sources of fear, most teams will experience a surprising increase in energy, with ideas and solutions suddenly appearing in abundance.

Needle Moving Challenge

Your most powerful weapon against fear is a personal act of courage. At your next meeting, share an idea you might normally have kept to yourself. Ask a “stupid” question. Admit that you don’t know the answer. A small act of vulnerability often allows the whole group to breathe a sigh of relief, take off their armor, and begin working together.

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