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Overcoming Senior Fear to Move Forward in a Changing World


It’s trite, but true. The only thing constant about change is that it’s constant!

Particularly in the environment we currently live in where market forces, political and economic policies and technology are continually shifting and evolving, leaders must be prepared to respond appropriately to the myriad of changes around them. As this McKinsey Quarterly report suggests, CEOs play an important role in helping their top leaders “work through fear and denial to learn new roles.”

There are both rational and emotional elements at work here, Derek Dean points out in this article, sometimes causing leaders to suffer from paralysis or, as he says: “plain old white-knuckled fear.” It’s the kind of fear that can lead to defensiveness and rigidity, causing leaders to dig in their heels and resist necessary changes that can move them, and their staff members, forward.

To get them out of that stuck state, CEOs need to play a role in helping executives to put their fear on the table, writes Dean. That requires open and frank conversation, as well as modeling the behaviors, responses and actions they wish to see from their leadership teams.

Related: Combatting a Bias for “People Like Me”

Dean uses Harrah’s and its leadership during the economic downturn of 2008 as an example of how one team was able to relearn how to succeed. It’s a good lesson in being responsive to change and tackling fear to move forward and regain market share.

Today’s leaders face fear on many levels: fear of changing demographics that challenge preconceived notions about what the market expects. Fear of changing social mores that challenge long-held beliefs. Fear of shifting economic pressures. Fear of political divisiveness. All of these are realities in the 21st century.

To tackle these realities leaders need to be willing to face their fears—inclusiveness can help. Inclusive leaders surround themselves with people who are different from them in a variety of ways. But, most importantly, they don’t just build a diverse team; they listen to members of that team even, and especially, when these diverse team members’ viewpoints and world views are different from theirs. That’s the point where learning occurs and where leaders can not only face their fears, but embrace them to help move forward in new, innovative ways.

Inclusion is a business imperative. Be inclusive!

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