He who is feared, fears also; no one has been able to arouse terror and live in peace of mind.
- Quote by Seneca
I had a boss once that was quite the character.
Intense, demanding – he pushed you to squeeze out the last drop.
At first, I had the impression that he was super-smart. He always had an answer, and a direction you should go in next.
As a young guy, with little work experience, trying to prove myself, I was quite impressionable and soaked it all up.
Anything he said was ruling law. Any time he snapped his fingers, the team changes priorities.
And back then, I still thought that anyone holding power was not to be questioned – or else ...
Man, was I wrong.
Over time, I realized that this guy consistently went back on his word. Made things much more complicated than necessary. Twisted circumstances to his benefit, and berated you for trying to come up with new solutions and ideas that challenged things.
So, people in the team got cautious. They (me included) were afraid to catch the next salvo, therefore, following orders and procedures, thinking little outside the box.
There was little ownership, as anything one came up with could be turned upside down and inside out at a moment's notice during the next meeting. Ass covering was the move.
Pressure & angry outbursts increased from the boss man, morale dropped. People started leaving the company.
Back then, I confused intensity for confidence.
I thought I didn't know enough and learned too slowly.
I took the tension and anger to heart, felt small, and insufficient.
I did not understand where my shortcomings would come from, neither did I ever get a satisfying answer as to how to improve. Only more impatient demands to finally live up to the boss’ expectations.
Over time, after many tries, I became tired and afraid to interact with this person. It was sapping all my joy of life.
It was a wheel of fortune – a highly unpredictable wheel. Is he going to be in a good mood or a bad one? Am I going to get yelled at, or am I safe for today?
Behind the scenes I started to pick up the pieces of my ego, while listening to leaders I admired like Jocko Willink. Then I channeled my energy into new projects, as well as the hunt for a new job.
I took the experience with me and swore, I would never become such a bad leader myself.
Today's quote made me think back to this time.
My former boss most likely was under a lot of pressure from the clients to deliver results.
He did not have answers to everything, but pressured you to deliver them, even if you couldn't. When you didn't, he got annoyed for things moving at a different pace as what he needed.
There was likely no backup plan for anything (I was never privy to such secrets) and very tight deadlines.
Management was probably also looking at him to lead the team, which he obviously was not super good at.
These things likely made him afraid.
A man with his back to the wall will often lash out to find an escape.
Any person holding power is afraid to lose the power. They are aware that they are exposed to people's judgement more so than others. Some might want to see them fail, and they might get paranoid.
If you are ever in a position of power, be aware how you are treating others and be mindful of your thought. Detect when you are being protective, or afraid to lose something or to meet expectations.
Have the courage to confront your fears, to question your ego.
And at the same time, be aware of circumstances people in positions of power might suffer under. Especially the high expectations. Cater to their egos. Wonder what you might be able to do to alleviate some of the pressure.
Let them know you are doing your best. Keep the communication line open. Done not retreat in fear of anger. Be courageous and let them know you are willing to work, but not to take their shit.
Now we'd love to hear from you.
What situation have you dealt with where you overcame fear at the work place?
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