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Thought Thursdays
Take the next business step – how to set fear aside

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How many of us have an idea brewing in our heads or are yearning for a change? We may have a business idea or want a career change or we are confronting a change that is thrust upon us. Yet we do not take the next step. We hold ourselves back. Anything to avoid a perceived loss. Author Tara Swart speaks of our survival responses that supposedly cause us to avoid risk, to shun change, and to side-step those things that we cannot control.

This week I was delighted to host the table conversation of senior executives. Many of them had founded initiatives, such as a business or network, and yet found themselves fearful of moving forward. Here are six constructs that we touched on to help with their process of moving forward – the process of taking the next step. Of course, as leaders and executives, their strategy and planning skills were not in question here. It was their mindset that prevented them from moving forward.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, consider the following:

  1. You are not alone – One of the emotions you try to avoid is shame, so you often do not share your new idea. Identify at least two trusted critics (who have no vested interest in your choices, but have your well-being at heart) and share your idea with the intent of crafting it further. This offers immediate relief and provides the comfort that you are not alone on this journey. Have the open mindset of humility and curiosity and learn from all and even sometimes surprising sources. This will connect you to people and show you a way forward.
  2. You are already halfway there – Start by identifying what you already have and this will set things in motion. One thing I have learnt from working with building scenarios is that the analysis starts with the present, not the future. Ask yourself what has already been seeded and what you can grow from there. For example, you may already have a product, a network of support, infrastructure, or an opportunity to take your idea forward. Your mind often defaults to what won't work, what you don't have, or why it will never work. And what you should realise is that your idea is already working. The ball is already in play, and you can choose to follow the path that is already there. 
  3. It need not be forever – Your fear of failure can often trick you into thinking it is all or nothing. That if you take this step you will lose everything. Well what if, just what if this is not the case? What if you follow this path, and it is a 'both/and' scenario, not an 'either/or' scenario. Adopt a playful mindset. Experiment initially. Test it out. See how it fits. Let go of exactly how it sho​uld be and how it should play out. Just see. See what is there and what is opening up for you. Or what is not working for you. Play with what is real, not what you wish to be so, or what you wish not to be so. 
  4. Remind yourself why you are doing this in the first place – Too soon you get lost in the detail and the 'what if's'. Keep a picture or a note to remind yourself why this is important to you in the first place. Connect with that initial spark of joy and excitement. This is the will and the passion and the reason that will keep you going, and keep you coming back for more. 
  5. The time is now – Adam Kahane of Reos Partners used to ask often: What is my next simple elegant step? This is a powerful question when you are fearful and lost in the web of details you spin around your current state. Just ask: What is my next simple elegant step? And take it. Just for now. And then ask the question again. And again. 
  6. Keep moving there is more around the corner – I was reminded of an experience I had while scuba diving in Mozambique many years ago. I was on a mission to swim with the dolphins, who were just not playing along. We simply could not keep up with them, and after the fifth attempt we were feeling rather dejected. We decided to take the small speedboat around the corner of the bay. And there right before us was a gentle giant of a whaleshark. She must have been 10 metres long. I had the great privilege of snorkelling alongside this magnificent creature for about 30 minutes. It was not that we had planned this or that we had expected it, but it turned out to be the most memorable moment of my life-time. And in life and business we can live by this creed: there is always more around the corner. We may not know what it is, we cannot see it, but always trust there is something bigger and better for you. This may not be easy, but just keep moving and be open to what is waiting – just for you. 





Sarah Babb is an ad hoc faculty member at USB Executive Development. Her areas of expertise include leadership in transition, changing leadership identity and organisational change. 




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