The business world is full of uncertainties, that it is natural sometimes to feel fearful and anxious. This is especially heightened in this time of the pandemic, where the world has completely turned upside down. But just because we can get fearful in business doesn’t mean we have to stay there. Helping you move out of that, Ben Baker interviews David Stone from i-fearless to share with us why we need to be fearless and how to achieve that. He talks about getting people over the fear of change and enabling them to understand that change is valuable, not only as leaders but also as people within the organization. At the end of the day, we all have to realize that people and organizations have fears. The question is, what do you want to do about it?
Thank you for being with me week after week. I love my audience, your passion and your questions. Keep coming back, keep sharing and subscribe. Do all those funky things because this show only gets better because of you. I've got David Stone from i-fearless on the show. We're going to talk about fear and anxiety when it comes to business. David, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Ben. I appreciate you having me on. I’m glad to be on your show, sharing with your readers this whole subject of fear and anxiety in business. Often, we talk about fear and anxiety but we tend to think of it on the individual level. There's an awful lot of that especially these days with COVID. I've spent many years working as a consultant to business and I found that one of the greatest barriers to a company achieving the goals that it set for itself is the self-limiting beliefs, the fearful or anxious mindset that we have. We tend not to try things rather than going for them.
Before we get into this, let people know a little bit more about you like where did you come from. What brought you to the i-fearless situation? What was the a-ha moment that created i-fearless? Let's get into the fear and anxiety of business, how is it holding people back? How can we get them to move beyond that?
I started life many years ago. I grew up in Toronto. I went to school and was working there. I worked for 10 or 15 years as an architect before I came to the conclusion that I wasn't that good at it. I didn't enjoy it that much. By that time, I had fallen in love with marketing and business development in that industry for architects and engineers. I found that I had a real aptitude for it. I had a 35-year career as a marketing consultant to what's called the AE, Architect-Engineer profession. I worked all over the world, helping people to develop marketing strategies and do business development. It's interesting to touch on our topic here. In the engineering and architecture profession, there's a model called the Seller-Doer Model. You are a professional engineer but in addition to designing the bridges, you're also required to get out there, hustle and bring in work. The biggest obstacle that I ran into with those people is they're terrified of it, “I can't do that. I can't speak English.”
I did that for about 35 years. A couple of years ago, I was approaching retirement age and thinking, “I've had enough of that. What do I want to be when I grow up?” I have been through a period of my life when I was in my mid-50s where there were some crises. I found that I had increasing anxiety and worry. I worried myself into homelessness. It was only about a month but I got up enough to get my attention. That was when I thought, “This mental habit can have some serious consequences.” Rather than look for a pill or something to deal with that, I said, “I'm going to figure this out.” I pride myself on being intelligent.
I went and started studying myself, my brain and my mind, how it works and everything I could learn about worry and anxiety. I found a way out of it. As I was looking for my second 40-year career, “What do I want to be when I grow up? What does the world need?” What I heard was that the world needs to stop being afraid of everything. Stop being hampered and hogtied by worry, fear and anxiety. That's when I started, i-fearless. I work with both individuals and companies to help them overcome fear, worry and anxiety. The chronic worries we have that keep us from achieving the goals that we set for ourselves and living the lives that we want to and for businesses, achieving the goals that they set for themselves.
Let's break that into two different camps, the business and the individual. They're intermingled because businesses are full of individuals and the leaders of every organization are individuals. We all have our personal anxieties and fears but they lead to these larger fears when you bring them inside a corporation. What do you find are the biggest fears on average a company would have versus an individual would have? What do you hear the most?
You talk about the individuals and a company as being a collective of individuals but companies also tend to have a collective consciousness that the group, company and team has a personality of its own. Sometimes you'll meet people, encounter and deal with a company and you think, “These guys kicked butt.” They'll try anything, the old Steve Jobs’ ready-fire-aim strategy that we're going to go for it no matter what. You encounter other companies that are much more conservative, timid and cautious about what they do.The world needs to stop being afraid of everything, stop being hampered and hogtied by worry, fear, and anxiety. Click To Tweet
I was talking to somebody and I was saying, “What are your goals? What do you strive for? What do you dream about?” He runs a branch office of a particular company. I said, “Where do you see yourself five years from now? He said, “Maybe we'll have added five people to our staff.” I said, “What are your plans?” He said, “I like to let things happen on their own.” It was obvious that this guy is very cautious. Timid is probably not fair. In terms of what this guy could be accomplishing, it's the self-image that we have as individuals but the company takes on a self-image of its own. If you present an idea to a company, their response collectively is, “That's not us. We don't take risks like that.”
They don't think big however they've learned and that's part of the process of getting into it. They've learned to aim lower. The fears of any company that they're looking at the downside. Mountain climbers and tightrope walkers are all trained to never look down. If you are halfway up the face of Half Dome in Yosemite and you turn and look down, what happens in your mind is suddenly your mind is filled with the consequences of failure rather than the benefits of success. You're now thinking about, “This horrible splat and stain on the rock that I will become if something bad goes on.”
What happens is your mentality switches from playing to win to playing to not lose. That's a huge difference. Anybody that follows sports understands the difference of a team that’s playing offense versus a team playing defense. Playing defense might work for a little while but eventually, you’ve got to score goals, score points and take offense. It's the same with any company. As soon as you look down and focus on the bad things that might happen if I do that, then you pull in. You're operating from a position of fear rather than from a position of optimism, possibility and potential.
Somebody told me that 70% of strategic plans never see the light of day. You have all these companies that create all these strategic plans. Let's take the conservative number of 70%. Why do you think that culturally causes companies to spend all this time, make all this effort and hire all these consultants to develop this strategic plan and never take the time to implement it?
There are a couple of reasons. Why they invest all that time and money in strategic planning in the first place is not because they're visionaries and say, “Where do we want to go?” It's because somebody in business school or they read a book that says, “You're supposed to be doing strategic planning.” They say, “We better do that.” Few of the companies that I've worked with truly understand what that means and how it leads to bigger thinking, to alternate thinking, not just moving forward but leaping forward. The strategic plans that we do deal with tend to be incremental and evolutionary rather than revolutionary. That's why they do it. Why the ones never get implemented is because we're all creatures of habit. “This is how my day goes and this is my comfort zone.” We love those comfort zones.
We call it that because I'm comfortable here and when I'm not in there, it's not fun. It’s uncomfortable and unpleasant. People tend to shrink back. They're afraid and fear the unknown. If I try this, what happens if it doesn't work and if we invest in it then we lose that money. What happens if we try to get new clients and those new clients don't like us or those new customers don't buy? What we've got now is familiar, we know it works and so let's keep doing that. They'll never say that out loud but our actions speak loudly.
I spent many years and have been involved in hundreds of strategic planning sessions. As the facilitator, people get all excited. In the 2-day or 3-day meeting that you're having, they get all revved up like being at a Tony Robbins event. They feel relieved when you leave, “I can go back to being myself again.” You set these deadlines for these goals and you check in a month later, “How are you doing?” They say, “I’ve got to get to that soon.” The handy excuse is that work got in the way but the real reason is, “I don't want to go there because it scares me and it's different than what I know.”
I find that the same thing can be said about the mission, vision, value statements and also training. If you take a look at leadership training, millions if not billions of dollars are spent on leadership training across North America and around the world. The problem is after leaders like me come in and we train for a couple of days, we leave and they go back to their life. Unless they have follow-up and follow-through, nothing is going to happen. They all revert back. I see this time and time again and that's why we have six months of follow-up sessions with our clients. We find that people get all excited about the strategic plan and the mission, vision, values statements. “This is something new and is going to be great,” then reality sets in and they don't want to change. How do we help people get over that fear of change and enable them to understand that change is going to be valuable for them, not only as leaders but as the organization and the people within the organization?
All human beings are motivated by two things. One is to go away from what they feel brings pain or discomfort and the other is to go towards what they feel brings pleasure. Every decision we make is based on whether it's taking me towards pleasure and away from pain or is it going the other direction. If I'm saying to you, “I want you to make a decision to go into something that you don't know, unfamiliar, has the potential to be risky and maybe even dangerous but go ahead, walk into that. Walk into the burning building, please.” That in your mind represents massive pain so you will do anything that you can to avoid doing that. You told me you would in the strategic planning season, “We're into it and we're going for it.”
What you're going to do in reality is find all reasons to avoid, delay and procrastinate, “Sorry, I have to take this call.” There are all kinds of reasons you have that you could put. A year later comes by and we've made no progress on it but, “We meant to so let's go through this planning session again,” and then I feel better and we repeat it. What has to happen is that in the planning process, whether it's the leaders in the company or the facilitator, it has to create what has been Tony Robbins’ phrase, “We have to create a compelling future.” We have to create a future that is exciting, intriguing and full of potential, that it is more pleasurable to go towards even if it is unknown than to stay where we are. That's the hard part.
I want to tell you a brief little story. You talked about mission, vision and value statements. I was involved in strategic planning many years ago. It was a company and we worked for a couple of days on their mission statement. As soon as it takes you more than 30 seconds to come up with it, you know it's dead because we wordsmith it forever. It was some generic thing like, “We aim to be the best in our business and to be known for high quality. We're going to do great work, treat our people well, make money and have fun.” That could apply to anybody.
I was having dinner later that week with one of the people who was involved in the planning process and we were chatting. He shared my views as well that they had missed an opportunity to do something exciting. He was relating to me. He had spent ten years in the US Coast Guard as an officer on a ship. He was responsible for the crew that looked out for operations. His crew had to make sure that everything worked on the ship and that it all ran. He said, “We treated our group as if it was a small company or small service provider that our customer or our client was the rest of the crew and the ship itself. We had a strategic planning session.”
They came up with a mission statement. In my mind, it was the best mission statement I have ever heard in my life. I won't tell you what it was because it had a distinct naval flare to it. I will redact part of it. The mission statement was regarding the ship and all the equipment on it, “All these blank works, all the blanking time.” If you are a member of that team and it's 2:00 in the morning on a Sunday and some piece of equipment breaks or isn't working, you know exactly what you're supposed to do and what's expected of you if we're to be successful. There's no question about it whatsoever. I love that because it's powerful. You and your readers can fill in the blanks. To me, what's missing is this compelling future that we paint for ourselves. That is what fails to draw us towards the pleasure of implementing these plans and what keeps us from it is the fear of the unknown.
I have lots of friends in the military and they all talk to me about their mission, vision and values. In the military, it's different because of the chain of command and the understanding of the esprit de corps and everything else. Everybody understands that what I do impacts somebody else. It's also the culture of good, bad or ugly, we're going to debrief every single mission. Everything went well, didn't go well or what could we do better. There's always that opportunity for people to look at each other and say, “You messed up. We were supposed to be doing this. What happened?” It's not pointing fingers and nobody gets fired but it's also being able to hold each other to a higher standard that I don't see that happens a lot in corporations.
It's a bit of a morph because, on the one hand, it is an entity that has a collective consciousness of its own. That tends to be weaker in a crisis moment than the individuals who make it up. That's one of the things I find in corporations that they don't do is those debriefs because it's scary. That's the reason they don't because, “I know I dropped the ball. I don't want somebody else telling me I did so let's stay away from that.” Whereas in a military situation, it's not the individual that screwed up. “Our plan was not right. It's our thing so we can safely debrief it and no individual is feeling threatened.” One of the fears that we have to go back to the individual anxiety is the fear of the opinion of others. “I need people to think well of me, like me and approve of me. Therefore, I will actively avoid any situation in which they might not.” A debrief is a perfect example of that.
Let’s take it from there because we have individuals that don't want to be called out. You have organizations that are terrified of what could go wrong. This is reality. People are going to get called out and things are going to go wrong. Whenever you have changed, things are going to go wrong, individuals are not going to perform up to par and people are going to get left behind. If the role of the organization to realize this, build systems in place to make sure it doesn't happen and to have that goal in mind. How do we take this? Let's say we're implementing a new computer system and there are going to be headaches, hassles and learning. There are going to be all these things that go along with it because there always is. How do we set the team up for success because they know that going into this thing, there will be challenges? How do we get the team to psychologically know, “We're going to go some pain but here is going to be the benefit on the other side?” How do leaders enable that change to happen successfully?The leader's job is to constantly reinforce the picture as compelling and desirable that any challenge we run into is worthwhile. Click To Tweet
It's the leader's job to paint that picture and constantly reinforce that picture as being compelling and desirable that any challenge we run into is worthwhile. We regularly see companies that embrace a culture of innovation and failure. Unfortunately for most companies, failure is something that is to be avoided at all costs. The easiest way to avoid failure is never to try anything. That's why there are the worry and anxiety. “I might fail and if I fail, my keister is in a sling or out the door, I'll be embarrassed, demoted or any number of painful consequences so I'm going to avoid that.” It all comes down towards pleasure away from pain.
The leaders have to create this culture that celebrates failure and fast failure. I wrote a blog called How Fast Do You Fail? How fast do you try something new and then quickly recognize, “That's not working. Quick, what did we learn now, let's tweak it?” As opposed to, “I told you this wouldn't work. Let's go back to what we were used to be doing.” We see some of these visionary ones like the Elon Musk, the Richard Branson, the Steve Jobs and the Bill Gates of the world, in their earliest days, would embrace that thing. They have the innovation that takes place in those organizations that is mind-boggling and earth-changing.
As it grows and evolves, you've settled down into this. “We've achieved this. Let's not put that at risk.” Several years ago, I was asked to speak at an annual meeting for one of my clients. I was supposed to be talking about marketing, the future of their company and all optimistic stuff. It was held over a weekend and I was supposed to speak on Saturday morning at 10:00 or something. I came in and the speaker that had gone before me was their liability insurance provider. He had spent the previous hour telling them all the ways that they could go broke, die, get sued and land in jail. My job is to get them all pumped back up again.
That's the thing, “Where is our focus? Are we playing to win? Are we playing to not lose?” When we play to not lose, we're focusing on looking down and all the things that could go wrong and we're plugging holes everywhere. “Don't try that, that could go wrong. Don't try that, that might end badly for us. New ideas, no. We like the tried and true.” They tend to stay there. What happens is we get the boiling frog syndrome because they stay where they are and everybody else is progressing around them. They get left behind. They shake their heads and wonder what happened.
The challenge that I see in change and managing this fear and anxiety is leadership. It's not leadership at the top, it's leadership throughout the organization. A lot of what we call first-line managers and leaders are not given the training. They don't have the empathy, coaching ability, communication skills to be able to help their teams through this change and mitigate the fear and anxiety. How do we, as organizations, develop a culture from the top to the bottom so that every single rung of leadership is able to manage the fears and anxieties of their team and enable the team to elevate themselves as a whole and strive for that goal? Everything can't be on the shoulders of one individual at the CEO level. That's important but they can't shoulder the entire weight, especially when you're dealing with companies of 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 people. How do you build that culture?
It has to begin there. If that person does not have that attitude of looking up instead of down, growth instead of a status quo, innovation as opposed to conservative status quo then nobody else is going to because I'm constantly going to be looking to the person that's above me. They can step on me at any point if they care to. I'm going to be looking at their values and I'm going to be saying, “What do they celebrate and reward?” Towards pleasure away from pain. If I think that person in the corner office is going to give me pain, I'm going to do whatever it takes to avoid that and whatever they reward. If that person behaves that way then I'll be willing to. If I failed on something but then I learned my lessons, make adjustments, go forward and that person rewards me as a result.
I'm not talking like, “Here's your bonus check or anything,” however, rewards are valid then I'm going to do more of it. It's no different than all human behavior that way. I’m now behaving that way. The person down in a rung from me is going to be looking at me to say how do they behave and what do they reward. There's no question that personality, traits and training also come into play. A couple of weeks ago, I've been doing some coaching with a person in a company. The CEO of the company tasked me to coach this person to step more into a leadership role for the company they're at. The CEO is asking this person to take a more proactive role in this particular office and their market. This person is failing to step up to it. We've had three different personality profile instruments run and four coaching sessions. This is a person that is happy right where they are. If you draw a circle, that's their comfort zone, it’s where the dead center is and that's where they like to be. I talked to the CEO and I said, “There's no amount of coaching that will turn your Ford Focus into a Maserati.”
There has to be some raw material that we can work with that is innately in that person. They have to also see themselves as adventurous. We've all heard before that there are the hunters and there are the farmers. I heard the Buccaneers and the farmers. That's a bit of what you're born with or not. If you are a farmer, then it would be foolish to send you out hunting because you don't like it, you're not good at it and we've lost a great farmer. I found this in the engineering profession regularly that somebody who is a fantastic engineer and brilliant engineer but everybody keeps moving up. It's time to promote and it’s like, “We'll make you a project manager, department manager or something.” What do we do? We lose a brilliant engineer and gain a mediocre best manager.
The Peter Principle exists for a reason.
It has to start at the top and that person has to relentlessly communicate, “This is what we value here. We value adventurousness, risk-taking and creative thinking.”
They also need to reward people in the same way. There are many organizations that say, “We want innovative, creative, forward-thinking people,” but they're compensated for being risk-averse. The companies need to sit there and say, “Do we want to be innovative? Do we want to say that we're innovative?”
When I coach individuals on overcoming worry and anxiety, the place where we begin is by raising our awareness. Worry is a mental habit that we've all developed and like any habit, it sinks below the level of consciousness. We do it and we don't even think about it. That's the same as any other company. When they are rewarding that risk-averse behavior, that's below the level of consciousness. It's a knee jerk thing. The first thing we have to do is raise that level of awareness and say, “Can you see how you're behaving here? You're saying this but you're acting that way. Do you see that?” They either see it or they don't and then sometimes you can smack them on the head and then they say, “I see it.”
What you have to discover is, “Which is the real you? Do you in fact value these things? Did you put them in there because it sounds good in a strategic plan? Are you trying to get away from this?” Sometimes when you dig down, the truth is, “No, we like it here in this warm cozy place.” They're in the wilderness that scares us. That's where you have to get down to, “What is the real truth about this organization and this collective consciousness?” If you decide you want to change it then that's another whole effort to go through to try and turn the Queen Mary.
We all have to realize that people and organizations have fears. The question is what do you want to do about it? As an organization, do you truly want to change? Do you want to give the lip service a change?
The other thing I would add to that is for an organization to recognize the cost of worry and anxiety. Whether that is a worthwhile cost to them because of the opportunity costs, we don't try something new. We don't have the nerve to go into this different market. We're too afraid to take on that big competitor. What is the cost of that?
It's also the cost of losing great people because every employee that you lose costs you $100,000 or more to replace. It's understanding of, “What is the cost of us staying where we are versus what is the cost of us moving forward?” You as an organization or as individuals have to decide truly not from a PR and a marketing point of view but from a business point of view, who do you want to be? If you want to stay as a $10 million company and that's where you want to stay because you're comfortable where you are, you don't have to be a unicorn. If you want to be a unicorn, it takes a completely different mindset.The leaders have to create this culture that celebrates failure and fast failure. Click To Tweet
That is exactly the question that I ask when I'm working with individuals, who do you want to be? Do you want to be this person who hides under the covers and stays in the shadows through life? Do you want to be not necessarily a unicorn but do you want more than what you've currently got?
I'll send you a copy of my book, Powerful Personal Brands. You'll enjoy it.
I have one question that I ask people before I let them go on every show. The question is, as you leave a meeting, you get in your car and drive away, what's one thing you want people to think about you when you're not in the room?
I want them to go away from me thinking, “I'm much better than I thought I was.” I want them not to think about me but I want them to think about themselves like, “I didn't realize I had so much potential and I'm as valuable and as good as I am. Spending an hour with that guy made me realize how good I am and how much potential I have.”
That's an incredible thing to do. We all have doubts and fears but it's how we manage and embrace them and realize, “Everybody else has fears, needs, anxieties and desires themselves.” Nobody is above this. The more we realize that and the more we say, “I'm probably a lot better off than I think I am.” We're all going to do better. Thanks for being on the show.
It’s my pleasure.
David is the public face of i-fearless. He is a life coach and transformational speaker and leader, dedicated to helping people overcome the anxieties, worries and self-doubts that keep us all from achieving our highest potential.
In 2009, in spite of a highly successful international marketing career, he worried himself into homelessness. Then, fed up with the fear, anxiety and self-doubt that got in the way of the life he wanted to live he set out to find a better way. Now he guides others to live fearlessly through books, workshops, keynotes and blogs. His latest book is Unsubscribe from Anxiety: Opt out of the myth that worry is required and take charge of your own life now.
In 2009, in spite of a highly successful international marketing career, he worried himself into homelessness. Then, fed up with the fear, anxiety and self-doubt that got in the way of the life he wanted to live he set out to find a better way. Now he guides others to live fearlessly through books, workshops, keynotes and blogs. His latest book is Unsubscribe from Anxiety: Opt out of the myth that worry is required and take charge of your own life now.He is a provocative, inspiring and disruptive writer, speaker and change agent. He makes hard topics accessible and helps people enjoy the expansion of their comfort zones. He firmly believes that your parachute can’t open till after you’ve jumped out of the plane.
David is a Certified Trainer in the Jack Canfield Success Principles and a professional member of the National Speakers Association.
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