We have a choice to help shift perceptions to see fear as something positive rather than something to resist.
Dealing with fear is something that I've had to work on myself having served on five military operations in some of the most volatile places in the world. And one of the incredibly challenging things that I was faced with was learning to fast rope out of helicopters.
Now fast-roping is a special technique designed to get you from a helicopter down to the ground in ultra-fast time. In order to do this there is simply no safety apparatus whatsoever. Not even a repelling harness and there is no great-big safety net to break your fall if you're going to really stuff this one up. So if can you imagine, you just have to have your hands and feet on a rope ready to move some 60 feet above a moving target. Because of the danger involved it was normally something only ever performed by Special Forces soldiers and it was something that I never expected to have to do in my career. However, wavers were signed off by the Chief of the Defence Force allowing me to do this on operations in the Middle East. Now fast-roping wasn't just a physical challenge in the sense that I had to have that strength and endurance to be able to hold myself on the rope. More importantly this was a huge mental challenge for me, because... I am absolutely terrified of heights! The whole notion of jumping out of a perfectly safe helicopter holding onto just one piece of rope seemed really absurd in my mind. In many ways I had to overcome my fear of heights in order to qualify in this imperative skill. A skill which was a requirement in order for me to take up my appointment as leader of the team.
But you know I did manage to do this, I did manage to overcome my fear of heights.
It is really 100% normal to feel fear when we are in the face of challenges or when we're going through those periods of really significant change. One of the best things we can do is to sit with that emotion of fear and accept that the best learning opportunities tend to arise out of these types of situations – when we're really pushed outside of our comfort zones and are challenged to try something new. If at the same time we can reduce the mental boundaries and limitations that each and every one of us are guilty of placing on ourselves because we think that we are capable of only a certain amount of achievement. If we can push those boundaries aside and give ourselves permission to at least have a go, just have a crack at something new... then we might be surprised at what we can achieve.
Being able to face fear was a vital skill that I needed to survive the war in Lebanon where I was faced with a terrifying set of circumstances. As a leader I had to be able to manage those emotions, put them aside so that I could continue to make the decisions necessary to keep myself - and others around me - alive. As a leader I think that there are 3 things that make all the difference to how we manage fear in the workplace and these are:
1. Recognise that fear is a natural and normal response
2. Allow ourselves to sit with the fear and shift out of this mindset into one that is positive
3. Give ourselves permission to at least have a go at things – regardless of success or failure we will always learn something in the process
These days I do really believe that out of fear and out of periods of change in the workplace, can come incredible opportunities. So long as we as leaders have that courage to pursue the opportunities and shift our mindset from fear into something that is positive.