The Role That “Fear” Plays in Business

Ryan McGrath
Jun 27, 2022
min read
The Role That “Fear” Plays in Business

Fear, like many other human emotions such as happiness, excitement or frustration, plays a significant role in our work lives. Whether it be the fear of financial hardship, a future pitch or a merger/acquisition, leaders often find themselves in the crosshairs of trepidation. While fear generally carries an ominous undertone, that’s not always the case in business. In reality, fear usually represents an inflection point that has the potential to catapult a business to the next level. But, as leaders, how can we harness it wisely? How can we inspire our teams to overcome valid anxiety at a certain juncture?

The point is not to feign fearlessness but instead to use fear as a motivation. Recognize that fear is ever-changing. For instance, what was scary a year ago might not be as scary today; take some solace in this. Train yourself to work on something until it’s no longer as frightening, then go on to conquer a new challenge. Here are three tactical ways fear can actually help your business.

Create a defining moment

When you sense fear, remind yourself that you’re likely in the midst of a defining moment. It’s in these moments that you can step up and truly serve those that work for you. As a CEO, your people will—either knowingly or unknowingly—take cues from you. Therefore, how you react, communicate, and navigate a crisis (or even difficult decision) will ultimately set the tone for the rest of your organization.

Take advantage of ambiguity

Business comes with inherent uncertainty and this unknown typically triggers fears for most individuals. If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that we will likely never have all the answers required to solve a business problem or make an important decision. Try to reframe the ambiguity and, by extension, the fear that comes with it as an opportunity to triumph and ultimately prevail. Don’t let the fear of failure prevent you from pursuing your goals and ambitions

Remain competitive

Having a pulse on the competitive landscape your business operates within is paramount. In a lot of ways, the unknowns that your business faces are similar to those of your competitors. Some leaders may avoid fearsome decisions, which is understandable. If you train yourself, however, to navigate fear well, you can strategically seek out opportunities that only the brave are willing to explore. Perform your due diligence, accept the associated risk, then jump. If you succumb to the fear of failure—in many ways—you’ve already lost. Don’t allow yourself to be paralyzed by negative thoughts.

Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first 10 years. And, only 25% of new businesses make it to 15 years or more. I think it’s safe to say that the fear business owners feel is valid. But in the end, the goal isn’t to become impervious to fear but to be able to succeed in spite of it.

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