• Michael Sipe

Handling Fear in the Workplace

Updated: Mar 4

I came across a couple of articles in Harvard Business Review that I thought were valuable and worth sharing. I’ll summarize the articles and add a little for today’s remote working environment as context. The first article was CEOs, Don’t Let Fear and Paranoia Sink Your Leadership and the second was What to Do If Your Boss Doesn’t Like You. What’s interesting in both of these articles is that they address the common challenge of feeling connected with others at our place of employment. Whether we’re up at the top or down below in the organization, there’s a perceived and, at times, very real pressure to not fail at work in the eyes of our colleagues. We can be conscious of that fear or we can just be sub-conscious of it. I often tell people – the opposite of fear is LOVE. These two articles talk about HOW to express and share that love, even in extremely trying circumstances.


CEOs are told that they need to “respect and listen to colleagues, communicate honestly, adjust opinions when confronted with new evidence, and make decisions that strengthen the organization rather than his or her own position.” But evidence says that to rise to the top they need to focus relentlessly on themselves. That in turn brings isolation and the rise of fear. In an interview with many CEOs, it was determined that CEOs had five deep-seated fears:

1. Appearing incompetent

2. Being “vulnerable”

3. Appearing foolish

4. Under achieving

5. Attacked politically by peers

Ways to Handle Fear and Break Down the Isolation

1. Get out of the C-Suite and engage with employees (e.g. Have a weekly Zoom lunch with a direct report or have a Zoom Happy hour with colleagues every Thursday)

2. Trust your colleagues more than you think is wise (When in doubt get a second set of eyes on the issue)

3. Give people the attention they deserve (Be proactive on conference calls when serious issues arise, especially personally challenging issues) No one will question you being compassionate and sincere, it’s expected of a true leader


In the second article about a boss not liking someone, the term “not liking” may sound high school "drama-ish." What the term is really saying is lack of rapport an employee has with a boss. So, let’s break this down into what’s really going on and where fear is lurking.

1. Trust in order to boost confidence you will deliver:

a. Clarify expectations and be honest by asking yourself “Am I fulfilling what’s asked of me?”, “How can I bring more value to this job?”, “What areas do you (my boss) see as most important to develop?” *note: this last one starts to build a better connection*

b. Enhance perception that you’re competent and reliable. Even get help or tips from co-workers when fear sets in because you aren’t fully competent in an area

c. Have casual check-ins with the boss

d. Accept a poor assignment for now and avoid protest

2. Create Connection:

a. Watch for eye contact. Not just with you but other colleagues

b. Observe body language (poor body language by the boss may not just be towards you but everyone) then reflect back a neutral, open body language (e.g. gesture with palms outward at the waist)

c. Determine what the boss values and has positive energy about; engage with that interest and energy (i.e. express your innate ability to love another)

d. Be aware that your culture, gender, age, or style may come across as different and unique and hard to connect with

e. Check in with your intuition to see what the boss needs

3. Expand focus and look for opportunities to support with your competencies and skills:

a. Explore work related areas that both you and your boss have interest in

b. Keep gossip to a minimum (it’s often a mis-perception)

c. Build camaraderie with other workers, learn their skills, and most importantly-- COMPLIMENT them on their work (especially on conference calls when working from home)

Summary: For both the CEO and the employee, fear can drive us to emotions of separation and not truly being part of an organization. The best way to counter those feelings generated from fear is to go outward, to give, to be strong in our outreach to others. Working from home has brought in a tremendous sense of isolation seeding new fears about being valued by our companies. We need to stop looking for our own solutions and instead give more than we ever have using our unique gifts. This is the loving way to counter some fears we are seeing throughout the world right now.

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