Copyright © Dr. Stephen H. Dawson, DSL 2021
February 18, 2021
"Fear is nothing more than an acronym: False-Evidence-Appearing-Real." Unknown
A friend of mine passed a week ago. He worked himself to death, literally. He worked 80 to 90 hour weeks intermittently for the past 15 years. He was quite good at what he did, but he overdid it to the point of costing him his life. His passing helped me remember to not work so hard but to work smarter each day so I can work less overall.
I shared last week about the concept of spending time to gain the required perspective to go about the necessary work you have at hand. I thought more over the past few days about the fear I saw in 2020 held by many folks both near and far and how it often played out into anger by acting as a defense mechanism. I put down fear decades ago by learning from the wisdom held by one of my first mentors. "Fear is nothing more than an acronym: False-Evidence-Appearing-Real." Fear occurs during a state of confusion about facts. Fear is not scared, nor is it anxiety. Anxiety can cause confusion, but scared alone is not anxiety. Scared is known by the paralysis it causes in someone who is scared. Anxiety is a slow wear on the whole person. Meaning, scared is a present tense term.
I saw an episode in a situation comedy television show years ago that grips me to this day. Frankly, it scared me stiff. It scared me because I saw how accomplishing all of the work conceivable to be wise does not assure success. My friend who died recently was one of my mentors. He helped guide me through my graduate and postgraduate years. He was a wise man. A coach is not a mentor. Suffice it to say, one has to succeed in receiving mentoring first to succeed in receiving coaching. I prefer mentoring over coaching, for many reasons. We can cover the differences between coaching and mentoring in a future column.
I received comments regarding the column last week that matched the next healthy step in the strategic planning work. The step we are at now is knowing the defined strategy that needs to be planned. There is an intentional circular effort in strategy where an idea is formed and research occurs to support developing the idea. The strategy is then refined, perhaps redefined, then planned, then perhaps refined and redefined again, to its final planning, and then executed by way of strategy process realization. This circular effort is not unique to strategy. There is a research condition known as analysis paralysis. Essentially, too much analysis is occurring to the point the research is stalled by figurative paralysis. There is much work occurring to accomplish the strategy effort, perhaps with good intentions. However, the collective work effort is not advancing by realizing clear and healthy organizational growth. Things are stuck. This research condition is not unique to strategy. The best action to resolve analysis paralysis is to stop the research work. Take inventory of where the work stands, determine the clear facts held, and assess if the work is worth continuing at the time with the people assigned to the work.
We realized earlier we were going to an unknown destination, deciding we did not like that address. We took some time and breathed, gaining the necessary focus to begin the planning work. You wonder if the idea outlining your proposed strategy has merit. What exactly is the strategy we are to plan out for others to follow? You now do not know the defined strategy that needs to be planned. You cannot proceed to the intentional circular effort in strategy. We have come to the realization you are now scared, as you are unsure of your idea forming your strategy. Hence, fear pushes this person to be scared. How do I know you are scared? I know because you do not have the research to support planning your strategy. If you did, then you would not be reading this column.
I view there are three options available to resolve this matter.
The act of quitting can be called regrouping. I call this equivalence a falsehood. Quitting is quitting, and regrouping is regrouping. If one does not want to develop a strategy, then say it. The decision to quit is not about some type of size or power. It is about being unwilling to look at the problem and resolve it productively. Move on, do something else. If shame or embarrassment go with quitting, then that is part of the package. Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own said it well. "It's supposed to be hard...The hard is what makes it great."
The thought of not having a strategy to fulfill a goal is an excellent means to have followers walk away from their leader. These followers do not know what work they should be accomplishing, how they will benefit from whatever work they do, guess what they should do next, believe their leader has a plan, and wonder why their leader cannot communicate the unknown plan being executed. They deny the reality their leader is not leading by believing they are executing a plan they have not been given to follow. This condition is where the credibility loss for the leader occurs and ends their time in leadership.
If bravery is doing what is necessary when afraid, then strategy work is an act of bravery. I have not known a successful leader either first-hand or by distance who has not been afraid at some point in their leadership work. Afraid is not fear. Afraid is a healthy response to danger. A crucial success factor for the strategist I defined as successful was their not letting fear be a part of their work. False-Evidence-Appearing-Real. Those leaders worked to gain facts by eliminating opinions not supported by facts. If a tree is known by its fruit, then a tree is a good example of work productivity. Be the proverbial tree you were meant to be by putting down roots and taking the time to do the work needed to grow your harvest.
It is probable a person or organization new to strategic planning needs help with their work. I encourage you not to be either fearful or afraid of this need. I recommend you gain the help of a qualified strategist. Review their credentials, interview the credentials they provide to confirm their work, and select a strategist to help you.
What to buy, what to sell, what to change, these are the easy parts of strategy. They are easy because the accomplished research used to define your strategy reveals what to buy, sell, and change. The hard part of strategy is knowing you know, for certain, what strategy first to form and then to execute. I say it is hard because of False-Evidence-Appearing-Real getting in the way of going about the strategy work. Looking back, you will be amazed at how simple your strategy is once it is defined. It is a matter of setting aside fear with each action you take.
I intentionally did not state the obvious point that many people are involved in any strategy formation shy of a person who lives alone. I set aside those living in solitude for the final point I bring to you for consideration this week. It is probable your analysis paralysis means you have someone, perhaps several people, working on your strategy effort who do not hold the required qualifications to do the collective work you need to accomplish. Does this scare you? It should. It means you are not willing to stay paralyzed. Scared is known by the paralysis it causes in someone who is scared. Meaning, scared is a present tense term. We will talk next week about making people changes to your strategy work. Forget the realities of male versus female, older versus young, and skin color. Look at people from the perspective of the skills they hold to help accomplish their part of your strategy effort. Try to work through the thoughts of what it will take for you as their leader to separate the unproductive people assigned to your strategy work from the work you need to accomplish. There is no need to be fearful.
So, I ask you: where do you want to go? I hope your answer is to develop the plans necessary to accomplish the strategy you know you need to achieve to arrive at your desired destination. If this is the case, then let's get to work. If not, then I wish you the best of everything.
I hope we will see each other here next week. Email me if you need to talk before then.
Dr. Stephen H. Dawson, DSL
Executive Strategy Consultant
Stephen Dawson is an executive consultant of technology and business strategy, serving significant international organizations by providing leadership consulting, strategic planning, and executive communications. He has more than thirty years of service and consulting experience in delivering successful international business development and program management outcomes in the US and SE Asia. His weekly column, "Where Do You Want To Go?," appears on Thursdays.
Dr. Dawson has served in the technology, banking, and hospitality industries. He is a noted strategic planning visionary. His pursuit of music has been matched with his efforts to lead by service to followers. He holds the clear understanding a leader without followers is a person taking a long walk alone.
Stephen has lived his life in the eastern United States, visiting most of the United States and several countries. He is a graduate of the Regent University School of Business & Leadership. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.