Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there!!! Enjoy your day and the blessing of being a father.

This past week I discussed my fears about assuming a new important volunteer position with a close friend. I expressed my concerns about my lack of knowledge concerning specific aspects of the organization’s finances and my uneasiness with technology.

I explained that ever since I was born very prematurely many decades ago, I had struggled in school with aspects of math and science. My friend smiled ruefully and said “I can relate to what you’re saying, Larry. When I assumed a leadership position several years ago for a similar non-profit, I was fearful about particular aspects of the job. I thought about what I could do to confront and address my fears. I decided that the best thing I could do was learn as much as I could about those specific knowledge areas about which I was fearful.”

She continued, “So, I determined to read books, take classes, speak with other people who I considered more knowledgeable than I was, and keep a notebook of the key things I was learning.”

As she spoke, my mind flashed back many years to the time when I had just graduated from Georgetown Law Center. I had taken a position with a public policy research and consulting firm, The Lazar Institute, that focused on criminal justice issues. Soon after I started there, one administrator resigned and I was promoted into a supervisory position that included oversight of a large multi-agency budget.

I was scared.

“How can I manage a million-dollar budget?” I asked myself. “I’m not good with numbers!” I determined that I needed – and wanted – to do something tangible that would address my fears. So I registered for a statistics course at George Washington University. Statistics and I had never been friends. In fact, we were strangers to each other.

So I worked during the day and went to class at night. I had to go into the lab on the weekends to do my assignments with tabulating machines and punched cards. (This was way before computers came onto the scene!)

Thanks to this course at G.W., I overcame my initial fear about my ability to do my job, to comprehend large numbers and to develop and manage budgets. Was I an expert? Was I the smartest person in the office? Had I completely eliminated my discomfort with federal agency RFPs and multi-year financial projections?

Absolutely not!

What I had been able to do was look my fear in the eye, acknowledge it and move through it by committing to a learning adventure. And let me tell you – taking a statistics course at night after I had graduated from law school and thought I had completed my education was really an adventure!
So what can we as leaders do to address our fears and convert them into learning?

-We can acknowledge the fears up front and not pretend they don’t exist

-We can do a reality check by discussing our fears with a trusted confidante – a spouse, partner, colleague or dear friend

-We can switch our perspective from focusing on the fear itself to focusing on the big picture and the manner in which the fear is serving as an obstacle

-We can brainstorm – with ourselves or others – about possible ways to surmount the obstacle

-We can select one strategy or multiple strategies for attacking our fears in a timely manner

-In this era of the almighty Google machine, we can read as much as possible about possible avenues to pursue:
-online classes,
-classroom instruction,
-professional journals,
-continuing education conferences,
-one-on-one instruction with consultants

I am reminded of a pivotal day I spent in my office years ago. Email was taking over the professional sphere. I was not comfortable with email – yet – because of my – you guessed it – fear of technology. A friend of mine, Erwin Karp, was in DC doing email consulting for the DC office of a major law firm. Erwin offered to come over to my office and give me a one-on-one tutorial.

During that wonderful tutorial, with us both sitting at my computer, Erwin gave me advice about creating subfolders that corresponded with specific programs and projects, moving all to-do lists into an “Action Items” folder (alphabetized, so at the top), changing my signature line to notify people when I would be responding to emails, and numerous other recommendations. Thereafter, I retained an email tip sheet in the top drawer of my desk to remind myself of Erwin’s suggestions.

Please remember. We all have fears related to our leadership and our jobs from time to time. It is normal to feel them.

We can move through them assertively and intentionally by adopting a learning mindset and embracing that learning journey!

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