Imaginary monsters are still scary

My 5-year old son is starting to become afraid of “monsters” in our house.  This has not been a problem until just a few days ago – but now he is reluctant to go anywhere in the house alone.   It culminated last night, when he wanted a specific book read to him before going to bed.  That book was located in our 3rd floor attic bedroom.  We were on the 2nd floor when the 5-year old requested this book.

“Ok. Go get it and I’ll read it to you” I said.

“I can’t” he said very quickly.

“Why not?  Do your legs not work?” I asked teasingly.

“I’m scared – I don’t like being alone” he replied seriously.

“But I’m right here and you just have to go up the stairs that are right over there” I said pointing to the stairs just 20 feet away.

“Can you come with me?”

“No – I’m right here and you’ll be fine.”

“But I need you to come with me.”

After 10-minutes of this back and forth conversation that included discussions on what type of monster it was, the fact that monsters were imaginary, and the fact that  he would be no more than 50 feet away from me at any point in his under 60-second journey and within easy calling distance, he was still firmly planted on the couch not willing to go get the book by himself.  I even tried my best motivation and psychology tactics to get him to go up by himself (incentives, peer pressure, challenge, etc..) – to no avail.  Then he said this most insightful statement:

“Just because its imaginary doesn’t mean that I’m still not scared.”

Wow…that’s when it hit me, I wouldn’t be able to rationally talk him into going upstairs to get the book.  No matter how many facts we agreed on.  No matter how well reasoned my arguments were.  No matter how simple the solution was.  He was going to still be scared.

I needed to respond to him on an emotional level.  I needed to make him “feel” safe.  I needed to hold his hand or walk halfway up the attic stairs or go up first and clear the attic of any monsters before he was ever going to go up in the attic alone.

Imaginary Monsters

And sometimes we and our employees are the same way.  We make up monsters.

We extrapolate all the bad things that could happen and they get blown out of proportion.  We understand all the rational discourse on why the company needs to change, but in our guts we are scared by that.  We get caught up in the emotion of how we feel about what somebody said to us and not about what they actually said or meant.  We spin our wheels in the mud worrying about not getting a project done instead of just working on it.

And no matter how rationale the argument is against this imaginary thing – we are still scared.  When people are scared – we don’t work well.  We don’t go up the stairs to get the book.  Instead we sit in our cubes and wait.  We spread rumors and try to get others to believe in our imaginary monsters too.  We worry and fret and stress.

Our brains trick us because we are not rational beings

We are emotional beings.  Our imaginary fears and worries are not going to dissipate with rational discourse or well reasoned arguments or even facts.  Sometimes the only way over it is to have someone figuratively hold our hand, or walk halfway up the stairs or go chase out all the monsters first.

Too often as leaders we miss this fact!

The Not So Shining Knight

As leaders we want to be the shining knight that comes in and vanquishes all the monsters.  So what do we do – we focus on the facts.  We layout well reasoned arguments.  We rationally explain away all the potential downfalls.

Our communications highlight all the great benefits of the new program – but don’t address the emotional side of things.  We discuss program rules and miss out on leading people through an example of what it is going to be like.  We provide all the facts on a new change initiative but don’t go out and show them how we have to change as well.

We don’t bring in the human side of things.

We need to get better at holding hands. We need to work on our empathy.  Communication, no matter how good, won’t solve all our problems.  As leaders, we need to lead.  We need to go up the stairs first.  We need to put skin in the game. We need to feel the pain too.

We can’t always talk people out of being scared – even when they are scared about imaginary monsters.  As a leader it is not about being right or getting the facts straight.  It is about emphasizing with what your team is going through and being there for them.  It means that we have to start thinking and acting with our more with our heart and less with our head.

That’s what makes great leaders.

Let us know what type of imaginary monsters you face…leave a comment.

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