Last week, I met with an associate who is navigating a complex set of cultural and commercial challenges as a consequence of COVID. There was one “big issue” on his mind that he wanted to discuss with me in some depth, so that he could confidently chart a path forward. I imagine you are engaging in similar conversations with your colleagues right now.

To bring me up to speed with the issue, he shared 20 minutes of context, including the facts, the stakeholders, the risks, and so on, much like anyone would. The average person speaks at about 150 words per minute, so he provided some 3,000 words of context, before he asked me the inevitable question, “what do you think I should do?”

I had a pretty strong sense for the right course of action, but rather than answer his question, I asked one of my own; “if you had no fear and no ego, what would you do?” He went silent for about 30 seconds, then answered with absolute clarity and conviction. Intuitively, he knew what to do all along.

Separate fact from fear

Why did I ask this question specifically? In my experience, it’s usually not a lack of data, intellect or insight that stops smart people from confidently making a decision; it’s the fears and insecurities that decision stirs inside them. They worry about getting it wrong, looking stupid or being disliked, amongst other anxieties. As a consequence, they can lose themselves in a 3,000-word maze of their own making, and unconsciously outsource the exit to someone else. When we remove fear from the equation, the decision is usually much clearer and simpler.

Provide agency not answers

Telling others what they should do is like a sugar hit. They get an answer to their immediate problem, and we feel significant for providing it, but the outcome is typically a co-dependent and unproductive relationship. More importantly, deep down, people often already know what to do. Not every time, but much more often than we give them credit for. Our job as leaders and change agents is to help them see that, such that they solve their own problems more often, and increase their sense of agency at the same time.

The world needs more leaders right now, not more followers. I hope this blog will help you to nurture a few more.

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about PETER

For two decades, Dr. Peter Fuda has been a Sherpa to leaders, teams and organizations across the globe. He’s coached more than 250 CEOs to measurably higher levels of performance. His consulting company has delivered dozens of cases of business transformation and thousands of individual cases of leadership transformation, at a success rate of greater than 90%.

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