Pathways to Conviction: The Impact of Fear on Decision-Making
By: Guryan Tighe
Conviction is an incredibly valuable—yet increasingly rare—trait in leadership. Nowadays we find ourselves in volatile and uncertain environments. We don’t know what will happen next week, let alone next year. This uncertainty takes up a lot of space and energy, impacting organizational culture, effectiveness, and efficiency.
In short, it’s hard to have conviction when you feel as if you don’t know what you’re doing. And without conviction, leaders can’t lead, communicators can’t persuade and communities can’t believe.
Conviction takes courage, the ability to do something we know is the right thing even when it feels scary. This is asking a lot of us. It asks for our self-awareness and curiosity. Our ownership of our feelings and admission of our blind spots. Our vulnerability and our strength. Our search for conviction drives us, whether we know it or not, because what we’re searching for is our truth. When conviction is absent, we can’t see all our options and our choices lead to unintended consequences.
Conviction also requires vulnerability. When we do what we say and say what we mean, we are exposing our authentic selves and values and opening ourselves up to rejection and failure. Whether we are communicating with customers, partners, employees or investors, conviction is a cornerstone of persuasion. But true conviction is a lot harder than it sounds.
It’s challenging enough to stand in our conviction. What happens when you add the fear of the unknown on top of that? Our brain perceives uncertainty as a threat which puts us in a state of fear. Fear can shut us down and impede:
Sales and marketing effectiveness
Creativity and innovation
Change management and employee engagement
Fear, at its essence, is meant to protect us. This occurs when we find ourselves in a situation where an object of rational fear is present. If a shark is chasing you, that rational fear motivates you to swim faster or fight back and punch it hard on the nose. Rational fear is fear at its most useful. But there’s another type of fear — irrational fear. For example, you’re worried where your company is heading, and that you and your department is going to be left behind. You start sharing less information and operating in a silo. In this context, fear can drive you to make things worse for yourself.
Our fear launches into protective mode when it senses danger. On a neurological level, our brains won’t respond to irrational fears differently until we teach them otherwise. Irrational fear leads to isolation, withdrawal and disconnection — three handicaps in a dynamic business environment that’s evolving as rapidly as ours. For irrational fears, danger can be the unknown. What’s incredible, however, is that this very fear is telling us where to go and what to look for. It can reveal the critical issues and tasks that we need to address in order to access our authenticity – for ourselves and our organizations.
To understand the impact of fear on decision-making and its role in standing in conviction, Rob Roy Consulting partnered with FOURAGE to conduct a survey of 509 individuals across the United States. We asked them to consider how fear has affected them and their colleagues in decision-making. Their answers told us a fascinating story of awareness, blind spots, and the recognition that many can do a better job at engaging with their fears. And when we do, we can get closer to our conviction.
Leaders with conviction provide a sense of calm and inspiration. Being committed to conviction allows you to:
Access unknowns and uncertainties to enable purpose-driven leadership
Create safe spaces for creativity and innovation to thrive
Evaluate all the information (even unknowns or fears) to ensure you’re intentionally choosing how to respond, versus unintentionally reacting
When we stand in our conviction and hold others in theirs, we are presented the opportunity to create win-win scenarios. If we engage our fear with curiosity, we can awaken our courage, stand in our conviction and build and maintain connected communities.
What’s possible when exploring your fear becomes a door opener to greater conviction?