This article originally appeared in HuffPost.
Fear can be a good thing. It keeps us from stepping too close to the edge of a cliff when we’re hiking or from driving too fast on a crowded highway. Fear is built into our DNA to help us survive and to prevent us from doing things that would threaten our lives or the lives of the people we care about. Sometimes delivered with a surge of adrenaline, fear enables us to help us make quick decisions in the moment, perhaps to run from a charging tiger or move out of the way when a large boulder is heading in our direction.
But we’re not living in the stone age, and the odds of being chased by a tiger or having to fight for our very existence on a daily basis is low to non-existent. That said, even with all the advances of modern civilization, the very core of our decision-making process has not changed much since the dawn of man. So, even if the fear we’re currently facing is “Will my business survive an economic downturn?” or “Will my customers abandon me if I change course?” we still react internally as if we were being chased by that tiger. Some of us will work through those initial fears, but others will be overcome and surrender to those fears – and that’s no way to run a business.
Here are four ways to manage your fear, move through it and make the best decisions for your business:
It’s the oldest trick in the book, and you probably did it growing up: Make a list with two columns – one that includes your fears (the costs and everything you think could go wrong) and the other with benefits (everything you could gain and think could go right). There are pros and cons to everything, and taking a step back will help you avoid surrendering to fear at the offset and make a decision based on facts, rather than fear.
Any classic Star Trek fan will remember that whenever Captain James T. Kirk had to make a decision, he always gathered his two most trusted advisors, Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock. He could always count on McCoy to offer a “gut” perspective, based on emotion and – yes – often fear. Mr. Spock, on the other hand, always offered a measured, logical approach to any situation. Then the captain, better understanding the extremes of each argument, would make a balanced decision. Find the members of your team who will help you see the full spectrum of any situation. Listen to them, and make decisions accordingly.
When Ronald Reagan spoke about his decision-making process around the nuclear arms policy and the United States’ relationship with the then Soviet Union, he took a balanced approach. He said he would “trust” that the Soviets would abide by any agreement, “but verify” that they were indeed complying and were holding up their side of the bargain. There’s a level faith you’re going to need if you’re going to be a great leader. You’ve got to believe that things will go right, that you’ll make the right decision based on the time and information that you have, and that the people around you are all doing their best to move your business forward. However, you’ve also got to pay attention, verify that people are doing what you’ve asked them to do, and make appropriate changes along the way to ensure that your trust is respected and warranted.
My daughter Madison is an actor, and she gets the proverbial butterflies in her stomach before any performance. In many ways, it’s the fuel that drives her onstage. Those nerves remind her to be on her game and help her focus before giving (what is always) an excellent performance. As a leader, don’t let the butterflies in your stomach stop you from moving forward with a decision or from considering a new idea. A bit of nerves can be a good thing, but if we turn them into fear, they’ll do nothing but hold us back from our potential. Instead, harness that energy, focus it and turn it into great performance.
Even if you’re a seasoned entrepreneur and CEO, you’re still going to feel fear, and so are all the members of your team – it’s the human condition, and it’s unavoidable. But far too often I see business leaders making decisions based on their fears, rather than the facts on the ground and their aspirations. Don’t let that happen to you. Take these steps to ensure positive forward motion. Not only will it be better for your business, but you’ll set an example for your entire team that will reverberate through your organization, even when you’re not in the room.