Few things are as paralyzing as fear of the unknown. In the face of this dark, deep, yawning chasm of perceived danger, the mind races into overdrive and creates visions of pain and loss, great or small. I’ve seen entire exec teams convince themselves the unknown is so awful that they defaulted to fighting for status quo rather than growth. I’ve struggled with my own doubt and indecision in the face of the unknown, opting at times to keep calculating odds rather than committing to an avenue and action.
This moment in history is ripe with unknowns. Our fears can (and do) grip us and hold us hostage in an effort to remain safe and unhurt – financially, socially, career wise. I believe that the unknown, and its twin, uncertainty, are ever-present. There are times when its presence is magnified and highlighted. This is one of these times.
But when I ask myself and others what are you afraid of in the unknown, the answer is one or some of these: failure, humiliation, loss of control, loss of power, looking stupid, being/feeling incompetent, losing time, losing money, or getting hurt. So what about any of these is really unknown??
What we’re afraid of is the undesirable and uncomfortable outcomes we can’t control. The unknown provides us a great blank screen onto which we project our very familiar and deeply aversive fears which we DO know, dearly desire to avoid, and not sure we can.
What I appreciate about coaching is the depth of honesty and courage we achieve. It is the gift of honesty and courage which allows us to peel back the inky layers of “unknown” and decipher the code of the real fear. Once the fear is named (feeling incompetent, for example) it can be studied, and a reasonable plan can emerge; a plan that still calls for honesty and courage.
Leadership requires willingly staring into the unknown and not freezing. No, it does not mean fear is eliminated, it means that learning to name it, engage it, and ride it’s energy is a path to unlocking personal and organizational power. Ultimately, the unknown contains all untapped potential. This is the real power of the unknown… unlimited growth.