Rather red-faced this week! I lost my temper with my insurance company a few days ago. I’m not really a hot-headed person and it’s unusual for me to get angry.

And what was this tantrum all about?

Sure, the company has an inexplicably complex process for making a simple change to a car insurance policy (I was trying to insure my new car three days earlier than originally scheduled), but it wasn’t the complexity of the process that led to my tantrum. It was frustrating, of course. But the real reason I got angry was fear – fear that not being able to make this simple change quickly would make it impossible for me to pick up on my car on the allotted day. And that, in turn, was going to make a journey later that week far trickier to manage.

No big deal in retrospect, but enough to trigger my amygdalas at the time.

A keystone habit with business and personal benefits

This brings me to the keystone habit I want to explore this week because it will help you get way better outcomes in both business and personal life. No – the keystone habit isn’t how to get angry. It’s how to understand and manage your fears.

This is fundamental to leading well and to communicating well every single day. It’s also fundamental to managing your blood pressure and staying calm in many different settings, including talking to your insurance company .

The problem is, most of the time we don’t recognise just how much fear is impacting our behaviours in ways that are not constructive for us or for the people we lead.

In fact, most of the time, we don’t even recognise that we’re feeling fear, never mind recognising its impact. And yet, it’s almost certain that your behaviour as a leader is impacted many times every week as a result of this powerful emotion.

How fear distorts behaviour

Here are just some of the ways fear distorts our behaviour as leaders.

  • Fear stops us being honest with others and with ourselves
  • Fear stops us asking the tough questions that might show up hard truths we’d rather avoid
  • Fear stops us listening to what others are really telling us
  • Fear stops us empowering others and leads to micro-management instead
  • Fear stops us being approachable and transparent, especially when we have messy messages to share

Fear is an emotive word and not one that we want to apply to ourselves as leaders. But we talk about it all the time. There are many terms leaders use to express fear in a more acceptable way – here are just some of the words you might use:

  • Worried
  • Concerned
  • Nervous
  • Anxious
  • Suspicious
  • Stressed

The benefits of reducing fear

Recognising when we feel fear is a keystone habit because this allows us to understand and manage  which in turn will:

  • Reduce stress for ourselves and others
  • Reduce the negative physical, mental and emotional impact that stress brings
  • Reduce unhealthy conflict
  • Reduce the wasted time and effort that unhealthy conflict brings
  • Increase honesty and openness
  • Enable us to listen without becoming defensive or critical
  • Trust and empower others
  • Create an environment that allows others to engage with us and with each other without triggering their fears of being criticised, undermined or embarrassed

That’s a powerful list, isn’t it? And it all begins by moving away from denying or ignoring this emotion and recognising it is something that you experience. You are human, after all!

How to change this habit easily

Here are three practical steps you can take to help you develop this keystone habit more easily:

  • Fear often shows up first as a physical sensation – a tight feeling in the gut or chest, tension in the shoulder or jaw, increased pulse rate, lack of patience. Pay attention to these early warning signs.
  • Acknowledge that you are feeling a level of fear
  • Ask yourself what that fear is about

It’s fantastic if you can do this ‘in the moment’ but sometimes it’s more practical to reflect afterwards and learn from that.

And remember, whatever’s happening to you today, observe with interest and learning, not with criticism and judgement,

How leaders can save time & reduce stress for themselves and others