In today’s blog, I wish to deal with a subject that has destroyed more businesses than failure, and this is
Fear is the single-biggest obstacle a person will face when trying to accomplish a goal. Fear is the emotion that dominates and drives many people to do what they do. And most of this is irrational.
How Fear Paralyses a Business
When you decide on growing your business, doubling your sales or “adding a zero” to the end of your income, most people smash hard against forces of:
Insecurity, self-doubt and limiting beliefs.
Fear has not only caused countless people to run the other way, but has also caused a standstill in our plans and has left many feeling cowardly about themselves.
In early 2000, when major search engines such as – Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft were still charging companies to optimize their searches in order to give them higher ranking in their search results, Google, then headed up by Sheryl Sandberg – president of global sales (currently second in command at Facebook) had already begun to coin it on their pioneering AdWords, advertising campaign.
The other major search engines ignored Google in the early years. They were conformable within their own outdated anachronistic business models. They were afraid to lose the revenue that came from charging businesses for the sake of giving them high ranking search results. Regardless of them knowing using Google would have given them more superior search results, they rejected Google’s early offer to power their search engines with its software.
So Google went headfirst, noteworthy I may tell you; not without facing their own Red Sea and overcoming their own fear.
By the time 75% of web browsers were using Google to execute their searches, it was much too late for Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft to partner with their start-up. Google had already won the race.
My prolonged point is that if titans like Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft can be paralysed by fear; that they did not act even when it is in their own interest to do so,
how many other businessmen in smaller, or more well-known other imperial industries are gripped in the pervasive thoughts of fear?
When these companies gain hindsight, and reflect on their mistakes, the core of the problem can often be traced back to fear.
Many successful business leaders will tell you they were able to achieve success after conquering their inner fears. From that point on, the road to success was a relatively straight shot.
Many belief systems and philosophies all concur fear is an obstacle that urges devotees to resist it.
The Bible takes it a step further.
Based on the well-known story of Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, is veiled deep within the blueprint, a lesson for overcoming negative fear-based reactions (Exodus 14:12.)
The legendary story of a recently emancipated nation, Israel, as they stood gripped in fear before the sea of Reeds (mistakenly translated in English versions as the Red Sea) tells of how they were caught between their former pursuing oppressor, Pharaoh and a dead end of deep waters.
As you can imagine, they were very afraid. Fear drove them towards advocating four modes of action that would have been perfectly disastrous.
The Jewish Midrash (Jewish Oral Law) goes on to discuss these four faces of fear in more detail, namely:
Self-Sabotage, Fight, Retreat and Learned Helplessness.
Moses’ response in the Bible shows timeless wisdom for business leaders to overcome these four impulses.
He does not advocate a reckless “just believe God and all is going to be alright” defence mechanism approach.
Instead, he accepts the sources of their fear and tells them how to overcome it.
In doing so, he creates a timeless template that you can use in any situation where fear is present.
But first, imagine what it was like?
Gathered at the waters’ edge, with the hoof-beats of Pharaoh’s army booming in the near distance, blocked by an endless flow of the Sea of Reeds, knowing their homeland is just a few hours journey beyond their impossible situation. The Israelites’ praises of freedom
The Israelites’ praises of freedom are gone. The dust of their approaching doom is so nearby; it begins to cloud their hope. You can see the fear gripped in their eyes, right down to the bones of the women and children.
Often, many great leaders find themselves facing such predicaments. (Honestly, I’m in such a pickle momentarily, and like you, I am trusting God for the wisdom to part my Red Sea. May these principles inspire hope in you as it did me).
The Jewish historians added some pertinent details.
At this profoundly terrifying moment, scholars tell us the leaders of the people split into four camps, arguing furiously with each other.
During trying times, a wise leader steps back and listens, observes, and is fully aware, that difficult moments reveal who the loyal and true leaders are.
One leader calls the people to commit mass suicide… “it is better to die by one’s own hand than to be murdered by our former masters….”
A second man shouts him down… “The moment of freedom is gone,” he utters hopelessly.
“Let us prostrate ourselves before Pharaoh again and return to Egypt as slaves. That is all we ever were and that is what we should remain.”
A leader from another group becomes agitated and raises his voice in fury, “free men must fight for their freedom” he cries,
“now is the time to rise up and fight, and do battle against the Egyptians. No matter how poorly armed we are and how inevitable the outcome of such a battle might be, let us fight back.”
A final voice disrupts his speech, “we did not free us from slavery. We’ve never been in control. Our only path is to remain motionless, close our eyes and pray to God.”
Pharaoh’s horse was now clearly visible as the sun glittered off their armour and raised swords.
The people paralysed with fear, fell silent and looked to Moses.
He had guided them so far.
In desperate times, people will listen to anyone who inspires hope. Listen to these timeless words of Theodore Roosevelt:
“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.”
Moses looked out upon his people and uttered perhaps the most important words he would ever speak as a leader (Exodus 14:13-14);
“Do not fear. Stand firm and see the salvation, which God will bring today. Though you see the Egyptians now, you will never see them again. God will fight for you and you shall remain silent.”
Speechless, puzzled, the people stood as they heard Moses’ words.
This awkward paralysis is what leaders often find themselves facing in their business and work.
The motivation for their fear corresponds to the four faces of fear the Israelites vocalized that day.
I wish to discuss each face in greater detail in the following section.
Insight for Business:
- Competition is not your real enemy – fear is,
- Choosing to follow the path of safety will cost you opportunities which will often be far greater than the potential losses you might incur by a riskier path,
- The payoff for avoiding mistakes is often smaller than what you may gain from taking risks.
- Allow yourself to take risks.
- Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.
- It’s better to be an imperfect achiever than to avoid the journey altogether.
- It’s better to have tried, and failed, than failing to try.
Fear Face #1: Self-Sabotage
The first camp opted for mass suicide. While this may have allowed them to feel a measure of some respect; choosing this option was clearly a path to nowhere. The goal of emancipation was not to prove some emotional point.
It was to return home as free men.
Killing themselves offered no hope of accomplishing that goal. People often choose to quit because they fear they might fail, or decide to opt out of things because they are afraid of being forced to do so by others.
Fear of rejection or failure has been the culprit of countless business suicides.
This happens as much in business as it does in other parts of our lives, such as relationships.
But notice how Moses admonished the people, DO NOT FEAR!
This was not just a command, it was profound advice.
Moses was telling the people their fear was driving them towards suicide.
Before you can fight the urge to self-destruct you must acknowledge the source of the defeatist attitude, and that is fear!
Once you admit that fear is what is really driving you, you will recognize all the arguments to sustain the conclusion of defeat, are flawed. This is the moment your eyes open up and you identify all the avenues available and suicide vanishes as an option.
Insight for Business:
- There are days when a surrender is an option and the right thing to do is right there, but this is very rare.
- If surrender seems like the compelling choice, first get feedback from other reliable, trusted sources.
Failure can sometimes seem as a welcomed relief due to the pain of staying in the game. Always fight the urge to fail or quit.
Fear Face #2: Fight
Moses says to the second group of Israelites – those crying out for battle: “Stand firm and see the salvation that God will bring about today.” When we are particularly fearful of our adversary, fighting back is often the satisfying option. Sometimes fighting back is a sign ofWhen we are particularly fearful of our adversary, fighting back is often the satisfying option.
Sometimes fighting back is a sign of weakness, not strength.
The Egyptians are an understandable threat to the Israelites. But it takes an enormous reserve of energy to fight. Resources are stretched and often wasted. Additionally, to fight the Egyptians the Israelites would have had to turn and aim their attention backwards, the goal was to get home, not to retrace their steps. To fight meant detracting them from their destiny; the Egyptians had already been defeated.
In many cases fighting would be rational, but Moses tells the Israelites not to fight: “Stand firm.” Moses realised the desire to get involved in a war with the Egyptians was irrational and driven by fear.
Insight for Business:
- Fear will often drive a business leader to move in the wrong direction.
- Going to war is not always a symbol of strength but weakness, rooted in fear.
- Going to war can sometimes mean moving backwards and not forward.
- Fighting battles takes energy that is often better invested in being productive.
- Fighting is a backwards movement not forward.
- Choose very carefully which battles you will fight.
Fear Face #3: Retreat
Given the situation, the notion of returning to Egypt as slaves seemed reasonable. They knew they could have remained alive, miserable –but alive. Have you ever been in a situation where you have achieved more than anyone in your family or taken your company beyond what anyone has ever accomplished?
…the concept of backtracking or giving up everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve over the years, becomes uninspiring?
Moses clearly understood this and did not try to shame them. He did not try to artfully appeal to the noble, fearless side – there wasn’t time to sway them that way! Instead, he acknowledged the situation as it was and painted a brighter picture of hope to give them a reason to choose a different path, “though you see the Egyptians now, you will never see them again,” he said.
Insight for Business:
- The presence of the Egyptians is not an illusion in business, but the desire to return to Egypt is (not a justified response).
- Always put the threat into perspective.
- When the Egyptians are present, it’s a sign that God is about to do something great in your business.
- Fear causes us to return to what is familiar rather than face the challenges.
- The threat of the unknown always appears much larger than it really is.
- The future has much better potential and the past will fade into obscurity, so move forward with confidence.
- It requires strength to leave the past and faith to move forward into the future.
- The thoughts of returning to Egypt will always be the majorities’ choice. The majority is not always right. Only dead fish go with the flow.
- Sticking with strategies of the past can hurt your business.
- The world is always changing; change-manage for today and tomorrow, instead of yesterday.
- God’s Faith did not deny the Red Sea, it defied it.
- Always face the future, not the past.
- Don’t fear the enemy you have already defeated.
Fear Face #4: Learnt Helplessness
The final group argued before Moses, those who pleaded to pray for God’s deliverance. This was with good reason; after all they have seen countless miracles.
But Moses admonished this group too, “you shall remain silent,” he told them.
It’s not every day that a prophet tells people not to pray.
But there was a good reason. The instruction was already given; the Israelites had to move forward into the water.
God was not going to move their legs towards the shore.
Moses could not lift each of their legs.
Insight for business:
- Prayer is not a justification for inaction.
- Prayer is vital but on its own useless.
- Praying that our action will succeed is perfect, but prayer with no intention to act is deception.
- When a leader makes hard-hitting decisions, physical and verbal abuse is inevitable.
- People who have suffered abuse, (injustice at work, social settings, in relationships) have the tendency to react to a crisis by curling up and shutting off their hearts to avoid enduring any further hurt.
- Shutting down one’s heart may seem easier than living through the pain, but it’s just another form of surrendering to fear.
- If you don’t act on the last command God or His prophet has given you, don’t expect God to act.
- The first step out of any fearful situation is up to you.
- A good business leader never surrenders his business to fate.
- The moment you blame unseen forces (the markets, currency, politics….) is the moment you lost control.
- Never forget you are responsible to act. Others can give guidance, but neither they nor God should act for you when you’re capable of doing it yourself.
- No matter how strong your belief is in God and others, they will not help you if you will not help yourself.
As frightening as those first steps are, overcome fear paralysis, raise your feet and place it on the water. Eliminate fear-based decisions.
Miracles only happen when you face your fear and move forward.
So journey forth!
(Share this post and leave a comment, and let me know how it has helped you.)