Fear – The Chronic Curse

Candour – or the lack of it.

How many people walk away from meetings and have actually bought into the agreed actions? How much candour is there in most meetings? I find that the people with the least candour in a meeting are often the ones that complain most after the meeting and never really agreed on the actions. This behaviour causes dysfunctional teams, and dysfunctional businesses.

I think that lack of candour is usually caused by fear. For too many people, fear is a chronic curse on their lives. When you see someone rushing, it is because they fear they will be late or miss something. When you see someone interrupting, it is often fear that they may miss their chance to make their point or forget what they were going to say that causes the interruption.

Fear shuts down people’s receptors.

  • When you see people not objecting to bad behaviour, it is fear that constrains them
  • When you see people saying yes when they want to say no, it is usually fear that is driving them
  • When you see people staying silent when they should be speaking out, it is fear holding their tongues
  • When leaders ask, “Is that agreed?”, they often take as agreement the silence that is most people’s greatest protest.
  • When you see senior management not sharing their concerns with junior staff because it might harm morale, it is fear that is causing them to keep their secret. That fear denies them access to the creative minds that may help them solve the problems causing their fear.

And when I say fear, I also mean dread. It goes under other guises too: anxiety, worry, doubt, nervousness, concern, sometimes even sensitivity.

Occasional fear in small quantities is handy. The adrenalin helps you run, fight or hide until the danger is past. But chronic fear cripples and shrivels you. It reduces your mental capacity and your creativity. It isolates you. It disintegrates organisations, teams and people. That is why Roosevelt said, “You have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” We can learn to diminish our fears and focus our energies more positively and engagingly. We can learn, and good leaders do, and help their people to generate the confidence and openness that brings the connectedness and resilience that enables teams and organisations to succeed in the most difficult times.

A practical thing that one can do at any meeting is to ask, “What have we agreed to do?” and in turn, “What are you personally going to do to help us achieve what we have all agreed to do?” Then listen for a SMART objective. Anyone is more likely to deliver what he or she hears themselves commit to aloud in front of their peers than to fulfill someone else’s draft of the minutes of a meeting long after the discussion. That commitment and delivery builds positive trust very quickly. Lead the way!

I think this is the first time I’ve gone back and updated a previous post. I want to add a link to a powerful talk I’ve just watched on TEDx. It’s by Jonathan Fields and it’s called, Turning Fear Into Fuel. I encourage you to grab a cup of coffee and invest less than 20 minutes enjoying this liberating and interesting talk.

Strawberries and Cream versus Worms and Grasshoppers

Last week I began reading the much-lauded ‘How to win friends and influence people’ by Dale Carnegie.  Having sold more than 15 million copies globally since its original release in 1936, I was intrigued to see how Carnegie’s tips on human interaction might apply to winning and keeping customers 78 years on.

Here are a few things I picked out for your consideration, though I would recommend the book in full.

Connecting with Customer wants

Put simply, we are all interested in what we want.  It affects our decision-making more than we realise. Henry Ford stated that the key to success was “the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle.”  A Customer, for example, may not want to be sold something, but if a salesperson can show how their goods or services can solve a customer’s problems they will want to buy it.

Carnegie illustrates this idea through his love of fishing.  Although he is personally fond of strawberries and cream, when choosing bait he defers to the fish’s preference for worms and grasshoppers.  The same common sense applies to fishing for customers or business opportunities, and yet how often do we see businesses adapting in this way?

Building trusted relationships with Customers

Here’s Carnegie’s essence of a trusted relationship.  These brief hints are covered in greater detail in the book:

  1. Be positive and friendly.  Smile.  Never criticise or complain.  Avoid arguments, show respect, and never tell a Customer they are wrong.
  2. Be appreciative.  It may sound like old news, but expressing sincere appreciation strengthens relations and taps into the human need to feel wanted and important.  Carnegie describes this as the secret to success.
  3. Be Customer centred.  Show a genuine interest in the Customer and talk in terms of their interests.  Try to understand their point of view and sympathise with their challenges.
  4. Be transparent.  If you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.  People want to feel important, so are more likely to take a magnanimous view of your mistakes if you are open and contrite.  This is particularly sound advice if the alternative is to be rebuked by the Customer.

Passing the test of time

In the quest to win customers and influence people I would recommend the study and application of these principles. Ours are unprecedented times, with business relationships (both internal and external) coming under increasing pressure.  Inevitably new business models and methods will emerge, but in the field of human relationships, the value of understanding ‘How to win friends and influence people’ will surely outlive this crisis and many more.

The Power of Love

As a man that had to ask an exasperating three times before getting the right response (and even then it wasn’t convincing!) I won’t pretend I have much to teach about romantic engagement proposals.  I met my better half in the library, and well leave it at that.


This week I have been reading a fascinating report which focuses on ‘engagement’ of a very different kind.  The ‘2007-2008 Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study’ demonstrates an interesting relationship between workforce engagement and business performance. 


This study shows that companies with highest employee engagement achieve better financial results and are able to retain their most valued employees.  For example, companies with high engagement saw operating income increase 19% over one year, while earnings per share grew by 28%.  Conversely, companies with low engagement saw income fall by more than 32%, and EPS by more than 11% over the same period.  Other findings outlined in the study further demonstrate the correlation between engagement and performance.


The downside to these revelations is the finding that of approx 90,000 participants, only 21% were ‘engaged’ (i.e. willing to go the extra mile to help the business succeed) whereas 38% were wholly or partly disengaged.  So how should companies seek to bridge this engagement gap?


No one magic formula to engaging the workforce was identified in the study, although leadership style and work environment were clearly key factors.  Employees were willing to give more of themselves for their employer (and like to be rewarded for it too!) but needed to know that management cared.  Worryingly, only 40% of employees in the study felt that the organisation they worked for had their best interests at heart. 


Coincidentally (or maybe not) experts say the secret to successful relationships is putting the other person’s interests first, and it would seem that organisations aren’t all that different.  As I’ve discovered from my 5 years of matrimonial bliss, you start with love and the pounds (or Kilograms if you prefer) soon follow.