How to Turn FEAR into Success
by Rich Fettke, MCC
Reprinted from the University of Maryland National Leadership Institute Conference Proceedings of the 1998 Leadership Conference: The Art & Practice of Coaching Leaders
In my coaching practice, I have observed that the main obstacle that holds people back from greater success is their resistance and fear of change. To help my clients overcome this obstacle, I developed four steps to help coach them out of their "comfort zone" and into producing the results that they most desire. These four steps are explained below.
Change is an inevitable part of life and growth. Without change, we experience stagnation, depression and even death. Change is the only thing that brings progress, and yet, it is often what we resist and fear the most!
We are in the midst of some of the biggest changes in history. Big businesses are downsizing, the global market is in hyper growth, and the small business sector is expanding at an alarming rate. As the world around us changes, we must learn to change with it or else we will experience confusion, frustration, and stress.
Here’s the good news. We can actually turn our fear of change into a positive, energizing force for success. To achieve anything there is always some risk involved, and by conquering the fear of risk we can get what we really want. Every fear is an opportunity to grow.
Leaders must be able to embrace change and lead others to embrace change. A corporation cannot be a leader without the dedication and loyalty of it’s employees. When management implements company changes without the consent of the workers, there will be a backlash. People need to be heard. Fears must be addressed. When leaders and managers learn to "coach" others through the resistance and the fear of change, everyone wins. Through four simple steps, (Focus, Explore, Assess, Respond) leaders can actually help themselves and others break through fear, and actually turn it into a positive synergistic force for greater performance and success.
Coaching Through the Fear of Change
To be effective leaders we must be able to embrace change, both professionally and personally. So often, we get stuck doing things the same way, and hoping for different results: hoping employees will become more productive, or the company profits will increase… We get caught on the hamster wheel, running faster and faster, hoping it will work if we just try a little harder.We often resist the idea of changing course, because a new path would be foreign to us.. it’s UNKNOWN. We fear the change because we don’t know what’s on the other side.
In order to truly achieve our visions, we must jump off the hampster wheel of our lives to stop and re-evaluate. We must ask ourselves, "Where is it that I want to be, what am I doing to get there, and what is holding me back from being there now?"
In addition to being a professional speaker, I am also a Certified Business and Personal Coach. Delivering private and group coaching primarily by phone has allowed my to work with executive and entrepreneurial clients nationwide.
One of my coaching clients wanted to move to the next level of his profession. He’s an international business management consultant and hired me because he wanted to become a partner in his company. When I asked him what he needed to do to achieve that, he said he should begin speaking at conferences to become more visible in his industry. My client’s vision was clear, yet he resisted making the change. Why? He was terrified of public speaking! Many times we know exactly what we want, but that nasty four letter word holds us back: F-E-A-R. Organizations and individuals are faced with this dilemma on a regular basis.
The good news is that fear can actually become a positive asset! Effective leaders can learn to turn resistance and fear into a powerful, energizing force. Here are four simple steps that can be used in the moment, or for long term planning, to help us breakthrough fear, build courage, and create the results we desire.
F– Focus "What do you want?"
E– Explore "What’s stopping you?"
A– Assess "What could you do?"
R– Respond "What will you do?"
This information is hardly new, but most people have either forgotten it, don’t have a structure to implement it, or fail to use it.
I like to demonstrate these four steps with something that was uncomfortable and scary for me: my first bungee jump! I looked at my first bungee jump as a chance to do something new. ut you don’t have to jump off a bridge to get our of your comfort zone. There are many things that will get you out of your comfort zone. But why would you want to get our of your comfort zone? Because we often have to risk getting out of our comfort zones to achieve more success. We have to risk thinking differently and doing things differently to get better results.
So many people say they want more success but they’re more committed to being comfortable instead of being committed to their vision. Often, when we’re about to do something new that negative "Gremlin" voice in our head says, "you can’t do that! You’re might fail and you won’t be able to handle it!" The biggest mistake I see people and companies making is that they get stuck. They keep doing the same things, so they keep getting the same results. That’s okay if the results are in their favor, but if they’re not then they must make a change. It takes courage to take on change. It takes courage to go after what we really want.
If change is so important to help us achieve more success, then why do so many people and organizations resist it? The problem is that fear is sneaky! It disguises itself in many forms: resistance, avoidance, procrastination, overwhelm. If we don’t recognize fear, or if we deny our fear of change, then fear will actually control us.
The first step in overcoming fear and develop the courage for change is focus. Focusing is getting clear on where you want to go. This is what great achievers and great companies have in common. They have vision. They have the ability to see beyond there present reality. Focusing is the skill of creating a compelling future vision that provides a reason to change. Change can be frightening and paralyzing, so often people need more than just an understanding that they can’t keep doing thing the same way. Leaders must help them envision a specific future that looks better than the present reality. Leaders must have, and be able to create, a compelling future vision.
Let’s imagine you have joined me at my first bungee jump. Imagine that you’re standing on the edge of this 200 foot bridge. As you look down, you can see a river rushing beneath you. In five seconds, you’re going to jump from this bridge with nothing but a rubber cord hooked to your body. How would you feel? What is it like for you on the edge of that bridge? Are you nervous? Scared?
I certainly was on my first bungee jump! As I stood on the edge of the bridge, I was terrified! That’s because I was focusing on my fears. Then, I looked across the canyon and saw one pine tree that stuck up higher that all of the other trees. I made that tree my goal and having a goal, helped boost my confidence. I focused on the tree. I was focused on where I wanted to go, instead of focusing solely on my fears.
Focus on the Vision
When I served on the board of directors of the Professional & Personal Coaches Association (PPCA), we held a retreat in Sedona, Arizona. The purpose of the retreat was to clarify the future vision, mission and goals of our association. The PPCA was founded in 1992 with a mission to "promote the ever wider use of coaching."
At the time of our retreat, the PPCA was the largest, non-profit, dues-collecting organization for the coaching industry. In order to help us clarify our vision we collectively envisioned where we saw the coaching industry in twenty years. We visualized the details of what it would be like, what it would look like, and what role it would play in twenty years. We realized that one way to reach our mission might be to close the organization! By dissolving and by joining efforts with another large coaching organization, the International Coach Federation (ICF), there would be a more unified voice for the coaching industry. This was a very scary and uncomfortable decision for people who had put a lot of effort into creating the PPCA. The big question was "it this the best way to achieve our mission?"
In 1726, English author, Jonathan Swift described vision as "the art of seeing things invisible." A clear vision inspires people to take action, move forward and embrace change. This is why focus is the first step to develop the courage for change.
A vision is a detailed description of what you see if things turned out just right. If what you wish for became reality. Here’s the magic: by focusing on the best possible outcome, resistance and fear of change turn into excitement, growth and success!
Throughout time, vision has been known to be an important skill of high-achieving individuals and organizations. Over time, great minds and visionary leaders have given us many thoughts relating to the importance of vision. Stephen Covey reminded us to "Begin with the end in mind". Father Theodore Hesburgh told us that "the very essence of leadership is having a vision. It’s got to be a vision you can articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet".
Coaching people to focus on a vision
"What do you want?"
Coaching an individual or group to focus on what they want helps them develop clarity. It also helps them discover possible resistance and potholes on the future road to success. We are rarely asked questions like, "what do you want" and "what do you see for the future if things went well?" These simple questions can elicit an array of responses and will help you begin the coaching process of focusing, exploring, assessing and responding.
Before our work together, many of my clients had never taken the time to look at what they really want for their companies, their departments, or themselves. Being curious is one of the most important skills of a great coach. Ask. Listen. Seek to understand. You will be amazed and the power of this first step. One of the greatest gifts we can give each other is the gift of caring and understanding. So often people charge ahead with their own agenda, before pausing to get input and ideas from the individuals or group they are supposed to be supporting.
When you use the coaching skills of being curious, asking questions, and understanding what people want, you will most likely discover there is resistance and fear associated with the changes needed to achieve their goals. This leads us to our next step in exploring their fears. If you skip this step, you will inevitably find it will come up later and it will be deeper and stronger by that time.
Explore the Warning Signs
Exploring resistance and fear means listening to and understanding what the resistance and it is trying to tell you. This is when you ask, "what is stopping you?" or "what resistance or fear is coming up for you around this change?"
At the PPCA retreat I mentioned earlier, the idea of change brought up many fears. Our vision of creating a unified voice for the coaching industry would mean joining forces with our rival organization, the ICF. Would they have the same ethical standards that we had? Would we have any power within their organization or would all our hard work just dissappear? All these fears were like "red flashing" warning signs… and an opportunity to look at potential pitfalls.
To further describe the importance of exploring fear, let’s return to my first bungee jump. was standing on the edge of the bridge and I was focusing on the tree across the canyon. I had a goal, my confidence was stronger. I focused on where I wanted to go, but I was still experiencing fear. My mind was saying "yes" but my body was saying "no way!" I used my fear like a stop sign to remind me to stop, be aware and explore the situation before I moved forward into possible failure. I inspected my body harness. Everything was hooked up and safe. I checked out if the cord was hooked to my body. Check. The cord was set. Then I looked to make sure the other end of the cord was hooked to the bridge. The system looked strong. I felt more confidence rise in me and I was now ready to prepare for my jump.
Coaching people to explore the warning signs
"What’s stopping you?"
If you don’t allow people to explore their resistance and fear of change, you will inevitably find that fear will hold them back from achieving their goals. People deal with change in different ways. Just because one person is a risk taker who is ready to change just for the sake of change, another person might have a very high value of security and safety.
One way that leaders can better support others in the process of change is to be a role model for change. By exhibiting the courage to voice their resistance and fears about change, and to maintain the positive energy and integrity that is needed to embrace change, leaders create a magnetic force that helps pull others through difficult times. They pull rather than push.
Coaching is not based on the coach’s agenda. If the coach tries to manipulate and control, rather that to understand and empower, the person being coached will eventually resist and shut down. Understanding is the key. Exploring one’s fears is an important step based on understanding. Simple questions such as, "what resistance are you noticing with this change?" or "what is your fear telling you about this next step?" can help the coach better understand where the person being coached may be in their own process of the change. Marie Curie said it best when she stated that, "nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood."
Assess the Options
After you have coached someone through the steps of focusing on a compelling future vision, and you’ve led them to explore their resistance and fear, the next step is to help them assess the options. Then you can coach them to create an action plan based on their options.
So how do you plan for a bungee jump? Actually, in bungee jumping there is always a countdown. The whole group of people on the bridge join in a yell "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" and the jumper usually jumps. My plan was to break down my jump into small steps and to use the countdown as my structure to remember my plan. I planned to focus, take a deep breath, bend my knees, and on the count of one, to push off with all my might towards the tree across the canyon. I broke my plan into achievable steps and I had encouragement and support.
What options did we have for the PPCA? Our board of directors discussed closing the association. We looked at a media campaign to gain public awareness of coaching and to build our association. We discussed how we could collaborate with the ICF. We had several options. The question was which direction to go.
Then, we looked at the values of the PPCA. We discovered that our key values were partnership, community, contribution and service. So we created a plan to honor these values. We created a plan to approach the ICF to discuss the possibilities of working together.
Coaching people to assess the options
"What could you do?"
Assessing and planning is one of the most important aspects of good coaching. Assisting others to clarify their values and objectives is a big part of the process, but it’s not the only part. Many people have an "Ah-ha" experience but don’t do anything with their discoveries. This is where the skill of breaking down big changes and big goals into smaller, achievable steps is so helpful. The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. That’s an old joke, yet it’s point is often forgotten.
Reflecting back to my client I wrote of earlier who was terrified of public speaking. He wanted to begin speaking at conferences to become more visible in his industry. After we looked at his fears associated with speaking we came up with several options for him to fulfill his goal. He started with a first step of joining Toastmasters. Then his plan followed specific steps such as speaking at his office meetings, then on to regional meetings, and finally on to his firm’s national conference. Had I tried to push him directly into a presentation at the national conference, he told me that he would have never taken action because the goal was too daunting. He would have avoided taking action and therefore would have never overcome the resistance and the avoidance related to his goal.
Respond with Yes or No
We’ve moved through the first three steps, now it’s time for a choice. The final step to move through the resistance and the fear of change is to Respond.
If people don’t have choice- they may not embrace the changes they must make or will encounter to move towards a vision. They need to go through a process. They need to buy into the vision, explore their fears and be heard. Implementing change without including others creates resistance and upheaval.
After we clarified the desire to collaborate with the ICF an amazing thing happened. We were actually approached by the ICF. We were informed that the ICF’s Board of Directors had also decided that the ICF and the PPCA align as one organization. The ICF’s membership had voiced a strong opinion to have one coaching association for the industry.
So the Board of the PPCA adopted a resolution to wind-up and dissolve PPCA. This decision was enthusiastically approved by the membership and soon after, the talents, resources and strength of the PPCA joined with the ICF to form the largest, most influential unified voice and support system for the coaching industry.
This new direction allowed the PPCA to follow its original mission and to expand that vision with collaboration and community. By focusing on a bigger vision, exploring the resistance and the fears that arose from the change, assessing the options for growth, and responding with clarity and commitment, we moved beyond limited thinking to create an organization that will better build, support and preserve the integrity of the coaching profession.
Now, let’s go back to the bridge for the final step of my bungee jump. It was time for me to respond. Was I ready to say yes, or did I have to say no? I was ready! I wanted to breakthrough my fear. So I asked the group for a countdown. "5, 4, 3, 2, 1…I jumped! I threw my whole body our toward that tree and I let out a big "yes!" I conquered my fear. I survived! I did something new and it felt great.
Coaching people to respond
"What will you do?"
The final step to move through the resistance and the fear of change is to ask the person to Respond ("What will you do?"). After you have coached someone through the first three steps Focus on the vision ("What do you want?"), Explore the fears ("What’s stopping you?"), and then Assess the options ("What could you do?"). Now it’s time for a choice.
You must coach people to first make the change in their minds before they do so in reality. This final step must first begin with a thought and then the action will follow. When you ask the person you are coaching, "what will you do?" you draw out a choice. You will discover if they are ready to take on the change or not. If they are not ready, don’t force it. Bring them back to step one, Focus, and re-visit each step. Hold the space for them to process each step. Eventually you both will discover what needs to happen for them to embrace the changes they need to succeed. Yes, there are times when we have to "jump" even when the butterflies are still flapping. That is part of building our courage. By going through the first three steps, though, we at least have investigated the why, what and how before we take action.
The only way to develop courage is to break through fear. On the other side of fear is courage. The amazing thing is that courage is like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it gets. As humans, we have an built in desire to stay in our comfort zones. When we challenge our comfort zones we "get outside of our box". This is where we usually get the results that have been eluding us.
One way to support action and accountability is to have a weekly check with the person you are coaching. Look at where they are, how the past week contributed to their vision…or took them away from it. The magical power of seven days continues to show it’s benefits. Accountability is part of the foundation of good coaching. Make sure that you get solid commitments of what the person will do. Accountability does not put you in the role of task master. You are simply there to support this person in their success. Having someone to check in with and celebrate completion is motivating and productive. Ask them, "what will you do and how will I know that you did it?" Both of you should write down these commitments and follow up to make sure they have been completed.
It Takes Courage to be Successful
To be more successful we often must do things differently. The future we will experience is the result of the choices we make this moment. To create a better future we must begin to see change as an opportunity and choose to live with courage and commitment.
Coaching people through the resistance and the fear of change is an art that involves powerful questions, great listening skills, empathy, understanding, courage and integrity. You will find that the more you use these natural assets, the more they will develop. Developing the courage for change will help you, and the people you coach, to create a future that is more successful and fulfilling. Walt Disney shared this belief with us when he stated, "all of our dreams can come true- if we have the courage to pursue them".
I am grateful for the learning I have gained from coaching many clients. The four simple steps of focus, explore, assess and respond continually prove to be the fastest and most effective way to coach people through the resistance and the fear of change. In addition to this formula, a solid foundation of masterful coaching skills will greatly improve the effectiveness of these steps in your coaching. Keep in mind the following key points:
- Listen and observe the true needs of the person you are coaching.
- Focus on the agenda of the person you are coaching, not your agenda for that person.
- Be curious. Ask. Listen. Seek to understand the person you are coaching.
- Be a role model for change. Exhibit the courage to voice your resistance and fears.
- Believe that the person you are coaching is naturally creative and resourceful.
- While you provide feedback and an objective perspective, the person you are coaching is responsible for taking the steps to produce the results he or she desires.
- Come from your heart, tell the truth and notice the impact you have from being a great coach!
See Also: Articles by Rich and Courage Workshop.