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The antidote to fear-driven management

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Centerpiece,Leaders & Managers

Many leaders today are fearful and anxious, says Meg Wheatley, an author and expert on innovative leadership. They admit to not knowing how to solve the problems they face. The fear and uncertainty deprives them of the energy and enthusiasm they need to keep going.

Yet perseverance is precisely what they need. That, and wilderness survival skills.

Here’s why:

When wilderness hikers become lost, they pass through several predictable stages. First, they deny they’re lost, continuing to do what they’ve been doing, but with more urgency.

When they start to realize they’re lost, they look desperately for any bit of evidence to prove they’re not lost.

Next, they melt down. Their efforts aren’t working, and they may feel like they’re close to death.

It’s this moment that is most critical, according Laurence Gonzales, who wrote a book (Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why) about the behaviors of people who are lost in the wilderness.

If the lost souls don’t recognize that they’re truly lost, and immediately start to get an accurate read on their ­situation, they will die.

“That’s exactly what I see in organizations,” says Wheatley. “Too many leaders fail to realize that the old ways, their mental maps, aren’t giving them the information they need.

“But instead of acknowledging that, they push on more frantically, desperate to have the old ways work.”

That’s when we lose our capacity to reason, make good decisions and see patterns. Pretty soon, we start looking for whom to blame. New rules emerge, along with more paperwork requirements, which lead to less engaged employees and an atmosphere of failure.

Admitting you’re lost is the only way to survive. Stop looking for confirmation that you’re doing an OK job. In­­stead, call together anyone who can help you construct a new map, people at different levels, who play relevant roles.

Wheatley says, “It takes a lot of courage for a leader to say, ‘Our problems were caused by complex interactions. I don’t know what to do, but I know we can figure it out together.’”

— Adapted from “The Thought Leader Interview: Meg Wheatley,” Art Kleiner, strategy+business.

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