“Remember that pimple in high school? You thought everyone will judge you for it, when the reality was no one had the slightest interest in your skin. We all had our own pimples to worry about” — Gary Vee
Adult insecurity — more common than you think
I was recently asked why I do so much free work for Universities while turning down corporate speaker gigs. The short answer is I don’t have time. But the truth is more complex. The real reason is I enjoy them a lot less. I do want to know my audience but most corporate introduction rounds do nothing but create a shuffling sense of anxiety and inadequacy in the room. 52 people in a “Building High Performance Teams” Workshop — and every single person introduces themselves along the lines of “Hi, I am Barry. I am the assistant senior director of legacy systems and SSI for CEEC and Belarus.” The younger the audience the less I have to contend with a pompously intoned title potpourri of insecurity, accompanied by a side dish of passive-aggressive “why am I even here” arm crossing. When that is the starting point, working through the layer of insecurity to get to potential inspiration and creativity is a chore. It is a typical show- and fun-stopper: a work environment that reinforces rather than reduces peoples’ fear of being judged. Too high a share of people in a room constantly worrying about what everyone else thinks of them, their opinions, their actions.
Fear of judgement — the #1 performance bottleneck
We all suffer from it to some degree. Everyone has a moment of impostor syndrome every once in a while and that’s healthy. The only people who don’t have it are the ones that could really use a healthy dose of it, as the joke goes. But in too many of us a fear of judgement is what stops progress. Good things from happening. Us daring to take a step towards a happier future or higher achievement. All because we are paralysed into a status quo by fear of being judged by people we don’t even like. And for things they have no clue about. In many people I encounter in corporate life the fear of judgement has caused them to put in place a formidable array of defense mechanisms. From first strike capability (i.e. pre-emptive snap judgements of others and their projects) to pulling up shields to deflect work outside of their comfort zone. The latter especially is a pity as it is outside the comfort zone where we develop and progress our careers.
“Winners have no time to judge others. They are busy building their next win”
Winners have no fear of judgement
Not only do winners have no time to judge others. They have no fear of being judged and they rarely notice when they are. They know where they are going. Their certainty does not need outside validation. That next big thing they are working on? They spend their time doing it, not dwelling on others’ half baked opinions. Or explaining their process to every Tom, Dick, Harry and their idiot nephew. Fear of judgement is a bigger bottleneck for organisational and human progress than any other factor I am aware of. The amount of projects that we give up on before we have started because of our worry of what friend or enemy, co-worker or mother will think. The amount of people, who take a tentative first step towards sharing their true passion and becoming their own 3.0 version — who give up at the first negative comment on their blog, is saddening. There are always a few trail blazers who follow their convictions in every organisation. A few winners. They usually stand out as polarising figures. Typically they are adored by their inner circle and disliked or feared by those who prefer a slower pace of change.
Building a winning team — the judgement free zone
So where do we start in building a winner’s nonchalance towards being judged? Agreeing to “no longer care what others think” is easily shared in a social media tagline, but difficult to implement in real life. Our individual responsibility for one’s emotional resilience aside, how can we build organisations that consistently bring out fearless, optimistic and motivated individuals? Individuals who are ready to tackle the most difficult questions we face as organisations and societies? We need these individuals to lead and innovate, as well as to “know, show, and go the way” (John C. Maxwell), after all.
Implementing the fundamental behaviours of a High Performing Team are a good starting point. We can make sure our teams
- Allow and encourage mistakes and risk taking (within reason)
- Ask people and teams to make fast, independent decisions so leaders do not become bottlenecks
- Foster trust
- Always assume good intentions in others
- Show transparency in communication and decision making
- Require a culture where colleagues speak highly of each other
“But isn’t a team that forms around these behaviours, operating in a cocky, gung-ho and opinionated style, difficult to manage?”, I have been asked on several occasions. Damn right they are! They manage you, you don’t manage them — and that is exactly as it should be.
It’s great when it works — winner colleagues
A few weeks ago another head of department called me around 9pm in the evening for no immediately apparent reason. He had just had a great day with a customer and they had come up with a really good idea. All he wanted was to share the energy, the good vibes, the news. I have worked in enough places in my time where our respective roles would have made us tiptoe around each other in carefully choreographed corporate decorum at best. I have seen others where our respective roles would have made us competitors and antagonists at worst. My colleague had no fear of judgement. Neither around calling late nor that I would mistake his bubbly enthusiasm for unrealistic optimism or a lack of what some people would term “grown up seriousness”. No worry about being ridiculed for his excitement. And why would he — he is a winner. He is a master of his craft, a trailblazer and him doing great work is not predicated on my or others’ opinions.