Real Leaders

4 Ways Leaders Can Overcome Fear and Take Control

Scarcity is a feeling of fragility and uncertainty. Leaders cannot let fear determine their decisions, which is why cultivating an abundance mindset is critical to long-term leadership amidst the current coronavirus pandemic.

Of all the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus, one crisis has been largely overlooked: our psychological response. A scarcity mindset is induced by a fearful prediction about the availability of future resources. Leaders and companies are directly affected by a threat to their finances or the health risks for employees. Responding appropriately to current events is critical, but there’s a difference between strategizing and having a scarcity mindset.

Scarcity is a feeling of fragility and uncertainty. COVID-19 created environmental conditions that often produce a scarcity mindset: an economic downturn, a pandemic, and an abrupt shift to a new way of living. If you succumb to this mindset, it will stick with you even if the economy turns around tomorrow. Why?

Your brain identifies stressful events unconsciously. It remembers them for a long time with greater clarity and amplification. Our experience with physical distancing, for instance, will make us warier of shaking hands in the future.

Scarcity, whether real or perceived, impairs your thinking. It can make us reluctant to hire even after an economic upturn or lead us to be overly conservative with the company budget. Holding on to a fearful emotional response can ultimately result in poor long-term decisions.

Taking Control: Overcoming a Scarcity Mindset

In the short term, scarcity can produce increased engagement — at a cost. You might overemphasize immediate needs and think tactically rather than strategically. You’re likely focusing on survival and asking, “What do we need to do?” instead of considering opportunities and asking, “What could we do?” You’re probably getting things done, but they likely won’t benefit you as much as you think.

Additionally, relationships become more and more transactional with a scarcity mindset. You may place a greater focus on your own needs and become less willing to invest time and energy into relationships that don’t immediately fulfill them. However, managing employee unrest — or employee anxieties — is the most significant challenge facing most business leaders right now. Because negative memories stick in our brains longer than positive ones, what leaders do in 2020 will significantly impact their legacies.

The long-term consequences of leading tactically and prioritizing your survival are a shallow vision and weak culture. If you want to emerge as a stronger leader and company in light of this novel coronavirus, understand that financial conservatism is not the same as scarcity mindset. Being shrewd about budget and layoffs does not require you to consider the availability of resources. A scarcity mindset is an emotional response when you’re allowing fears to determine your decisions. Budgeting is top-down.

1. Before the moment, be proactive.

Organizations that prioritize productivity at all costs schedule work with no margins. This practice is rooted in scarcity, and it starts at the top. If your days are filled with more work, than you can feasibly accomplish and little time to think, try adding buffers.

For instance, I experimented with scheduling meetings for abnormal lengths (e.g., 52 minutes or 26 minutes). I found that this extra time helped me feel mentally prepared and present for each session because I built in a few minutes to collect my thoughts. As a bonus, I found it led others to respect my availability and make the most of the time we had.

2. Train yourself to identify your mindset at the moment.

As often as possible, ask yourself whether your mindset is suitable for your current environment. There may be times when a scarcity mindset is needed. For instance, if the government mandated that your organization work from home tomorrow, a short-term engagement to solve the issue at hand becomes critical. We all need to do what’s required in a crisis, but don’t let a scarcity mindset become the default. Be mindful of how you’re approaching the moment and change your thinking, if necessary.

3. Reverse engineer.

Try thinking “by design” rather than “by default.” Connect the dots between your mindset, emotions, actions, and outcomes because they’re inextricably linked. To change an issue, think about what action is required. What emotion triggers that action? What mindset cultivates that emotion? In the same way that reverse engineering your goals can help you identify first steps, reverse engineering outcomes can help you identify the necessary mindset.

4. Invite others into this process.

The reality is that bottom-up processing is unconscious. It’s therefore difficult to identify in the moment. We can be blind to our own blindness. If you’re serious about changing your mindset, consider inviting colleagues into the conversations. Feedback is a gift, and when you initiate a feedback loop, your brain is more likely to receive it, according to Kerry Goyette, author of “The Non-Obvious Guide to Emotional Intelligence.” Transparent conversations can lead to personal growth and build a culture of trust within your organization.

Cultivating an abundance mindset is critical in the long term. Anyone who hopes to lead a successful business must learn to balance the need to survive with the need to innovate. By reserving a scarcity mindset for situations that require it, you can guide your company through the coronavirus pandemic and to the other side.

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