Remember the scene in The Wizard of Oz that introduces The Cowardly Lion?
The Tin Man and Scarecrow are terrified, and Dorothy is hiding behind a tree. When The Cowardly Lion takes off after Toto, it prompts Dorothy to jump out and give the lion a little bop on the nose.
Instantly, The Cowardly Lion starts to sob and whine, showing his true colors. There’s a lesson in the initial response of The Tin Man and Scarecrow that has a near universal application:
The objects of our fears are virtually always much bigger in our imaginations than they turn out to be in reality.
I suppose this reflects both the curse and blessing of having a good imagination: Imagination allows us to conceive of great things, but it also allows us to inflate the magnitude of our fears.
This fact of human nature prevents many small business owners from achieving all the success they’re capable of. In business, some common fears are:
- Fear of rejection or failure
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of confrontation
Each of these can manifest itself in many ways. Let’s look at some examples that touch on different areas of your business management and leadership.
Fear of rejection or failure
This fear often prevents sales professionals from achieving to their full potential. Growing sales success depends on developing new leads and new ways to sell to established leads.
However, sales, like batting in the big leagues, is something of an exercise in failure. The best major league batters fail about seven out of ten times. When prospecting for new clients, the best sales professionals fail more often than they succeed as well. Too often, salespeople will begin to see the next prospect through a lens that magnifies the feeling of failure.
Even if you understand prospects to the best of your ability and give the best presentation, you can’t guarantee that the end result will be a sale. However, you should be able to guarantee your response if no sale results. Do not allow your imagination to take off and run with the “failure,” because it will then be in a position to hold sway over your next move, or your next session with a prospect.
How many sales professionals, after a disappointment, decide to “pack it in for the day”?
Fear of the unknown
Business owners and leaders can let the fear of the unknown keep them from expanding, forging new partnerships, and developing new products or services. Greatness is never achieved by always doing the safe thing or the strategy with the known outcome.
I think we live in a wonderful time for finding examples that should motivate us to overcome the fear of the unknown. Let me ask you a simple question: Some 20 years ago, when Jeff Bezos was trying to figure out the best way to sell a Danielle Steele bestseller online, could you have imagined him trying to figure out the best way to send satellites into space?
While they may not always be successful, we are blessed by daring, unconventional, thought leadership in business today. Join that group. While you might not want to send people to Mars, there are certainly some industry, geographical, or organizational limits you need to smash through.
Fear of confrontation
Small business owners sometimes ignore difficult or contentious situations. Problems with employees or vendors can go this route. If other aspects of the business seem fine, it’s easy to let other irritations slide. It’s always tempting to hope that things will straighten themselves out, however they seldom do.
What is a minor problem today, can escalate into a major failure tomorrow. Examples that come to mind right now, are the different sexual harassment cases we hear about. I would bet that often, somewhere along the line, there was a manager who had an idea something was wrong, but chose to ignore it.
Many cultures have a variation of this proverb:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
There is one strategy that is virtually guaranteed to cure all the ills I’ve described here:
Do the thing you don’t want to do first!
This has four incredibly powerful benefits:
- It gets the thing you’ve been fearing accomplished!
- It trains your brain to properly assess and handle fear!
- It improves the positioning of your business!
- It positions you to mentally relax and get increased pleasure from your other, less stressful, tasks!
I’ve heard that the most often stated command in the Bible is “Fear not!” I think that is a nod to the fact that fear is the greatest hindrance to realizing our human potential. Let that simple two-word proclamation be your call to action.