Over the years, I've studied a bit about leadership. Though I haven't always been the best student, I've had some of the best teachers -- in business school and beyond.
These great teachers have never held up fear as a leadership virtue.
Early in 2008, I pondered the perception that many people are afraid at work, all the time.
And I don't mean firefighters, police officers, and people in combat. Or illegal immigrants. Or doctors and nurses. Or teachers in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
I mean highly paid "knowledge workers".
Back then, I asked a good friend what he thought about fear at work. A friendly, churchgoing guy with exquisite manners, a great sense of humor and capacity for joy, my friend has held lofty executive positions in a service industry where people don't routinely die at work. Like people do in fires, or in the ICU.
He told me that fear could be a good thing -- that it could provide motivation to achieve.
This surprised me. And shook my slender thread of composure, which had grounded me enough to start a polite conversation about a negative emotion. I surrendered to my own social fear, and changed the subject.
But I decided to invest more time in what I started to call my Fear Project. Since then, I've been reading, talking with friends and colleagues...and contemplating my own relationship with fear, and how my reactions have shaped past business decisions.
This study was timely, because I was once again leaving the perceived safety of corporate life to start a consulting business. And the volatility and uncertainty of the past few months have offered excellent ground for study.
As 2008 draws to a close, I'll start sharing a bit more about this here: opinion, perception, analysis.
The next phase of the Fear Project is to reach out to people with differing stakes in workplace fear. You'll see some of them here, either via interview -- or if I'm fortunate, via guest posts.
And hopefully in the comments, too. Are you afraid at work? If so, why?
Clay Irving's photo Wat Plai Laem, Koh Samui, Thailand, downloaded from flickr, used under Creative Commons license. Hopefully the license extends to the ability to quote from Clay's caption. This beautiful photo is a Buddha demonstrating the Abhaya mudra, or hand position, “by raising the hand, palm facing outward in front of the chest. The left hand hangs down at the side of the body… It represents granting protection of dispelling fear.” (Thanks, flickr and Clay. I love Clay's colorful Halloween photos, too!)