One of the emotional impacts of navigating a tough economy is fear. We speak of courage as a virtue, but seldom do we spend enough time considering the flip side of courage, fear! Of course it’s there, lurking, but how should we deal with it? Specifically, should manager show fear? If so, what happens when they do?
Questions such as these haunt the workplace as declining revenues dictate cutbacks in resources and manpower. Whenever someone is let go, at least ten other people wonder if they may be next. The sense of unease that creates makes people distracted from their work and productivity suffers. Worse, they may dread coming to work for fear of getting the news that today is their last day. As the fear percolates throughout the workplace, what can managers do to address it? Here are some suggestions.
Acknowledge fear. Fear is not something that you sweep under the rug, especially in tough times. When people ask about their jobs, or the status of the team, be straight with them. Give them as much information as you can. Dismissing their concerns only heightens the sense of uncertainty.
Focus on the work. Managers are not therapists; they are hired to get work done. Focusing on the work helps you find relief from outside pressure. The manager needs to keep engaged in the work flow by monitoring what is happening as well as what isn’t happening. She needs to find ways to keep people engaged.
Find hope. Tough times require hope, but it can be difficult to find. Finding satisfaction in work may help some people; others will need more uplifting. Managers can do this by celebrating results in meetings or even springing for lunch, either on site or off. Most important, managers need to set the emotional by and remain upbeat, at least about the work. If the manager mopes, the team will lose heart.
Above all, the leader can’t show fear. She may feel fear, but the leader can’t reveal its effects. Her job is to serve as the team’s bulwark. She must be the proverbial shoulder upon which they can lean. Why? Because it’s the job of the leader to address adversity. Stalwart behavior in times of crisis is essential. If the leader falls apart, people will lose their sense of faith in the organization, and that’s deadly to team performance.
When the leader carries herself with a firm focus on the task as well as consideration for others, she inspires others to follow her example. She does not remove the fear, but she enables others to concentrate on what they can control rather than what they can’t control – their immediate fate.
First posted on HBR.org on 7/14/2008