The Courage to Prevail

Contributor: William Cohen, Ph.D.
Posted:  11/01/2010  12:00:00 AM EDT
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Tags: Peter Drucker | William Cohen | planning | Business Strategies

Drucker said that fear of losing one’s job was inconsistent with the ability to perform optimally as a manager. In fact, any fear can negatively affect the ability to perform at our best and can even immobilize us and prevent us from performing any useful work at all. Drucker was well aware of this phenomenon.

The Successful Businesswoman Who Became an Instant Recluse

A successful businesswoman lost her husband and became a complete recluse soon afterwards. With no warning her young husband had a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. This businesswoman was still in her twenties. She was in good health. She was still able to perform her job and without difficulty. Still, she became so fearful while dwelling on her life without her husband and what she could no longer do without him that her job performance began to deteriorate.

She knew that she was not performing optimally and began to fear losing her job. This fear grew. Rather than face the reality of actually being terminated, she quit her job, even though her supervisor was more than willing to give her the time to recover from the shock of her unexpected loss. Then this young woman began to worry about dying. She retreated further from her prior life.

She lived only on the money from her husband’s insurance and never even left her house. She paid someone to do her shopping and she herself stayed inside and at home both day and night day, rejecting all invitations from friends and family to go out from her home or to accept company. She hadn’t reached 30 years and her life was over unless she changed her ways and started managing her fears.

Another Woman Met Tragedy but Managed Her Fears and Prevailed

It is interesting to contrast this with Mary Kay Ash who founded and built the Mary Kay Cosmetics Company into a large corporation while creating imaginative awards, such as the famous “Pink Cadillac,” given to her successful saleswomen to further encourage their efforts.

Mary Kay had saved $5,000 to start her company. She was much older than the woman who became a recluse. She hired saleswomen and took out a lease on a store front and office space. She developed her business plan, lined up distributors, printed brochures, purchased product, and more. She planned to rely on her husband’s income to keep her going until the company was profitable.

Then two weeks before she was to actually start her business her husband also died suddenly of a heart attack. Everyone Mary Kay knew advised her to reconsider or to at least to postpone her plans to start her business until she had more capital. She refused and told them she was determined to go on with her plans.

Of course Mary Kay had fears herself. Anyone would. However, she did not allow her fears to affect her judgment. Mary Kay had the courage of persistence. She had the courage to prevail. She stuck with her plans and took a loan to carry her through until the company was on its feet. She built a billion dollar corporation known the world over despite her fear at the founding of her company. As Drucker knew, it wasn’t the fear itself that made the difference in any situation; it was how the fear was managed that was the deciding factor.

If you watched Robert Duvall in the movie The Great Santini, there was a scene where Duvall, who played a brash Marine Corps fighter-pilot colonel, was asked by his son, “Aren’t you ever scared?” “Of course, I’m scared,” Duvall responded. “That’s what makes me such a great fighter pilot.” In our terms Duvall was saying that he turned his fear into something which increased rather than detracted from his job performance abilities. He was managing his fear correctly.

Fear Is with Us No Matter What We Encounter

Let’s face it, these are fearful times and everyone has fears. Management pundits once talked about the fear of failure, and later, the fear of success. Well, try as we might we’re not we’re not going to avoid either. That’s why taking a vacation when we are suddenly out of a job is usually a poor strategy. We return from a “vacation” under these circumstances not so much rested and renewed as poorer and with more stress knowing that we wasted time trying to run from our fears. The cause of our fear is still present and undiminished. We still need to find a job.

I was once approached by a man who had been in prison. Through his fears he had convinced himself that he could no longer get a job despite the fact that he had an MBA from a respected school. I pointed out several well known individuals who had been in jail, did not have MBAs, and yet got jobs and became highly successful. It’s not about negative facts, it’s about negative fears.

Our fears may not be only about losing a job. They could be about losing a spouse, losing a house, losing a company, or poor health. But if you think all these fears are so terrible as to be impossible to overcome you might stop to think about our fighting men and women who are engaged in battle thousands of miles from home and risk their very lives every single day of the year in Afghanistan and Iraq. How do they prevail over their fears and accomplish their jobs so well under such circumstances? They have learned how to manage their fears. No matter what you do or the challenges you face, you can too. You can’t really avoid fears. But you can learn how to manage them. And that’s what courage is, managing our fears and prevailing over them. Let’s look at some ways in which we can do this.

Managing Your Fears

Here are three ways that you can manage your fears and prevail no matter what these fears are:

• Turn from a negative to a positive mental attitude
No matter what your fear you can manage it. During the Civil War there was a young colonel lying in a hospital bed mortally wounded. His name was Joshua Chamberlain. He had been a college professor before the war and he was only 36 years old. His wounds were so grievous that all around him knew he was dying. Chamberlain had been a brave soldier, but he had fear too, and he too knew that there was no hope.

To both reward him for his valorous service, and to ease his death, his commander, General Ulysses Grant, promoted Chamberlain to the rank of brigadier general on his deathbed. There was an almost immediate change in Chamberlain’s mental attitude. I’m sorry to say that Joshua Chamberlain did die from his wounds. However, he did so at the age of 85. In the interim he was promoted again to the rank of major general, became president of Bowdoin College, and became governor of the State of Maine.

• Expect the best, but prepare for the worst
You needn’t go around expecting the worst to happen, but nothing helps manage fears more than being prepared. No one who flies expects a serious in-flight emergency, but the flight crews who fly us around the country or around the world train constantly to be ready for anything that can go wrong. If you want to manage your fears about anything, do the same.

If you are concerned with a possible layoff or loss of job, then prepare now before such an event. Assemble all your resume materials, go to the library and get a book which tells you how best to interview. Make a list of companies and contacts you will approach for a new position. If you lack certain skills or education, don’t wait for something bad to happen, act now! Go to night school or on weekends and begin. If you think it may take as long as several years, ask yourself: “How long will it take me if I don’t begin now?”
 
• Develop a Plan
Your plan should be complete with details. Keep it updated on your computer. There are plenty of books available in the library on planning. They don’t need to be about life planning. The first book I ever wrote was based on a short time I spent as an executive recruiter. The book, The Executive’s Guide to Finding a Superior Job, sold almost 100,000 copies. A reviewer for the Chicago Tribune wrote that it was the first job finding book to include a detailed plan as an important component, “just like a business.” Won’t everything change once you start to implement your plan? Of course. But as President Eisenhower noted, “Plans are nothing, but planning is everything.” Even if the worst happens you will be ready to execute your plan right away.

Drucker knew that we must manage our fears not only to be successful in the business world, but to survive in any world. But Drucker was not just a thinker. He was someone who took action. When he had just completed presenting a particularly important lesson, he would admonish his students: “Don’t tell me that you liked what I said. Tell me what you are going to do differently tomorrow.”

What are you going to do differently tomorrow?
 




Contributor:   William Cohen, Ph.D.



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