Dealing with Worry? You Gotta Have Faith!

Dealing with fear and worry is an every day issue. You can’t avoid them. But what you can do is learn how to deal with them and overcome the paralyzing effect they can have on you.

Let’s first define fear and worry. While they are almost used interchangeably, there is a difference. Fear is an automatic reaction to some event. A rabid dog or a deer jumping in front of your car should instigate fear. In this way, fear is not altogether bad. When used properly, it can protect you.

Worry, on the other hand, is a choice. Francis Chan defines worry in his book Crazy Love”, Worry implies that we don’t quite trust that God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives.”

The Bible actually gives us a  model on how to deal with worry that will work in any situation.  1 Corinthians 13 is often referred to as the “Chapter of Love” and is popularly used in weddings.  The famous ending of the chapter is “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

The model for dealing with worry is to apply these three “most important things”, faith, hope & love.  In this post I’ll talk about the first of these, faith.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a great quote linking fear (doubts) with faith.  He said “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”  FDR recognized that you have to have faith in order to have the strength inside to move forward past the challenges of today.

First, let me explain that I’m not talking about a faith in God.  While that is something that is important to me, that’s not what this blog is about.  I am talking about applying some Biblical priniciples in a very practical way to help you in your daily life.

So how does faith help you with worry?  Simply put, faith is a form of confidence.  To overcome fear, you need to have faith – fatih in yourself, your friends, your employer, your abilities, your plan…. whoever you need to rely on to get you through the tough time.

Take for example the time last year when I was unemployed.  I needed to have faith in several things:

  • Myself – I had to believe that I was capable of finding a job, and performing the duties of it when I did.
  • My friends – I had to believe that my network of friends and associates would come through and help me find employment opportunities.
  • My wife and family – I had to believe that they would support me no matter what happened.
  • My strategy – I had to believe that the job search strategy I had empoyed would work.

Francis Chan had this to say about fear and faith.  “Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a county out of bigotry. Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did that. Faith did that. People who refused to consult or cower to their timidities did that. But fear itself? Fear herds us into a prison and slams the doors.”

Call it faith, courage, confidence… pick your word, the meaning is the same.  If you are going to face your worry head on, you have to figure out who and what you have faith in.  Then use that confidence to help you through the tough times.

Next, I’ll talk about hope, and how it is a necessary component in dealing with fear.



Two Sets of Threes

I’ve always been impressed with Coach John Wooden (even though I’m not a UCLA fan). His accomplishments, on and off the court, are indisputable.  I’m reading Pat William’s book about Coach Wooden and the principles that were passed from his father to the coach that shaped his life.

One of the early examples of his father’s wisdom given in the book is the “Two sets of threes”. These rules to live by are: “Never lie, never cheat, never steal”, and “Don’t whine, don’t complain and don’t make excuses”.

What a simple set of life principles you find here. In the first set of three, we are encouraged to keep our life straight. The best way to stay out of trouble is to avoid the “big three”…. We’ve heard them all our lives: to not lie, cheat or steal. This simple and solid advice that is eternal.

Most of us probably do a fairly good job of adhering to the first three.  But the latter three are a little harder for most of us. It seems like whining, complaining and making excuses are almost a rite of passage into the world today. We probably first think of teenagers when we think of these traits. But I believe we see them in people of all ages. After all, where do teenagers learn these traits? Adults, of course.

Coach Wooden had a hard life as a child, and his dad ran into some very unfortunate situations. But, he adhered to this code and never whined or complained. He took what life gave him, and without excuse, managed to raise a great family amid the challlenges he’s faced.

Undoubtedly, most of us have run up against whiners and complainers in our workplace. I don’t think there is a much more destructive force in an organization. As a manager, dealing with these negative traits will often zap me of my energy. If I’m not careful, dealing with complainers end up negating other good things going on, and negatively impact my own performance.

As a leader I believe we need to do three things:
1) Set an example by being positive, not making excuses, and not whining or complaining.
2) Do not allow a whiner to take away our energy, but to instead use our energy to turn them around.
3) Deal with negative personalitiies, even if it means removing them from the organization, before they poison those around them.

These are tough remedies, but if we are to truly lead organizations out of the cycle of negativity, we have to take the tough steps. 

Good luck, and don’t forget the two sets of threes.

Assess then Act

Some leaders take action on very little direction, while others seem to never have enough to make a decision.

Over the years I’ve noticed that one area that many leaders (including myself) can often improve on, is the ability to take action at the right time, based upon the right amount of information.  Leadership is often about setting a direction.  That direction comes from making a decision about what needs to be done.  Some leaders take action on very little direction, while others seem to never have enough to make a decision.

The problem with taking action on too little information is that you often make the wrong decision because you are not fully informed of the details.  Take for instance this one time when an executive I worked with wanted one of my team members to go on-site to address a customer’s problem.  The only issue was, no one had researched yet what the source of the problem was.  And since my guy could only address about 25% of the potential issues, I saw it as a 75% chance of a wasted trip.  (Note, this wasn’t a trip across town, but one that would involve airfare, overnight travel and at least two days of lost productivity at the office).  I put the brakes on sending the person out, and instead had a trained technician call and walk through the issues.  As it turned out, a local technician was able to swing by the customer’s location and fix the problem in a couple of hours.  The customer was much happier than if they had waited two days only to have the wrong person show up.   My company was better off because we saved thousands of dollars in travel expenses and lost productivity.

On the other hand, some people take entirely too long to make a decision.  This is often called “analysis paralysis”.  Over the years, I’ve often found myself involved with decisions that could never be made, because there was always that “one more” piece of information.   A similar issue is “next year’s version” of the software or product will be better.  These decisions (or the lack thereof) also cost the company money.  They cause lost productivity, lost opportunity costs and overall frustration among team members.  I’ve also noticed that the likelihood of these problems increase exponentially with the number of people involved in making the decision.  That’s one reason I love working in a smaller company.

Every leader must become comfortable with making decisions at the right time.  The time is not a measure of days, but a measure of knowing when you know enough.  Rudy Giuliani, in his book “Leadership” talks about the principle of “Reflect, Then Decide”.  He says that he never makes up his mind until he has to.   Recognizing when you “have to” is the key to good leadership.  One of the principles Mr. Giuliani illustrates is relentless preparation.  The more data you have, the more communications you have with your team, the quality of the people giving you advice, all impact your ability to come to a decision quickly. 

The bottom line is that no one can tell you exactly when to make any particular decision.  It’s a skill gained over time.  By learning what works and what doesn’t, it’s something that’s inside the gut of a good leader.  But it takes preparation, confidence and good information to make the right decision at the right time.

Principle-Centered Leadership

I was reviewing the book “Principle-Centered Leadersihp” by Stephen Covey the other day, and was reminded of the great message he has in this book.  Here’s a summary.

Overall theme:  That “natural laws, principles, operate regardless.  So get these principles at the center of your life, at the center of relationships, at the center of your management contracts, at the center of your entire organization.”  Further, these principles have been “woven into the fabric of every civilized society and constitute the roots of every family and institution that has endured and prospered”.

  • We may not like them, we may not agree with them all, but they are there. And they have proven effective throughout many centuries.
  • Six major religions all teach the same core beliefs – fairness, kindness, dignity, charity, integrity, honesty, quality, service and patience.
  • Principles are different than values.  Even street gangs and German Nazi’s held values.

How we react to these principles impacts every aspect of our lives.  For example, the principle of trust impacts us on four levels:

  1. Personal – Trustworthiness
  2. Interpersonal – Trust
  3. Managerial – Empowerment
  4. Organizational – Alignment

He gives characteristics of principle-centered leaders.

  • They are continually learning.
  • They are service-oriented.
  • They radiate positive energy.
  • They believe in other people.
  • They lead balanced lives.
  • They see life as an adventure.
  • They are synergistic.
  • They exercise self-renewal

Traits that are essential for managers to exhibit this type of leadership are:

  1. Integrity – “the value we place on ourselves”.
  2. Maturity – “the balance between courage and consideration”.
  3. Abundance Mentality – “there is plenty out there for everybody”.

The abundance mentality is the “bone deep belief that there are enough natural and human resources to realize my dream”. 

The need for a moral compass.  Values are maps, principles are a compass.  We need to trade in our maps for a compass.  An accurate map is a good management tool, but a compass is a leadership and an empowerment tool.    Maps change, compass bearings are constant.

Motivating for Change

If leaders implementing change recognize these factors, they are far more likely to not only succeed, but have a highly motivated workforce behind them to make it happen.

Over the past two decades, I’ve seen my share of change.  Change is certainly seen in the technologies we use and build.  But also I’ve seen change in the structure and styles of running business and leading teams.  Through all of the change, I have discovered five critical success factors for maintaining a highly motivated workforce, even those facing radical change.  In each case of a failed change effort, I can point to one or more factors which were either not considered or not carried out.  The five factors are as follows:
  •             Communications in every direction:  Up, down and sideways
  •             Honor the past, many aren’t ready to change and take it personally
  •             Give employees a chance to succeed (avoid no-win situations)
  •             Make every employee’s job valuable, no one wants to be seen as “overhead”
  •             Reward employees who embrace change

If leaders implementing change recognize these factors, they are far more likely to not only succeed, but have a highly motivated workforce behind them to make it happen.

The First 100 Days

I was recently asked the question, “what do you do to be successful during the first 90 days on the job?”. The bottom line is that you need to demonstrate to your leaders, peers, customers and team members, that you are ready to take on this new position.

I was recently asked the question, “what do you do to be successful during the first 90 days on the job?”. I’ve been put in leadership roles before where it was a significant change, either through a reorganization or simply applying for and getting hired into a new position. In either case, you need to demonstrate to your leaders, peers, customers and team members, that you are ready to take on this new position.

For me, I am a very relational person. So I believe you have to first focus on the people. This is the case whether you are in a totally new company/role where they are complete strangers, or in a new role in the same company where you may know the people. The key thing is to get to know them. I focus on three groups – team members, clients/customers/peers and the boss(es). I also try to do this both informally (lunch/coffee) and formally (1-on-1s, formal meetings).

Second, I gather a list of the key issues. The truth is, I’ve been gathering them as I got to know the people. Again, the source of the issues come from all three points of view. I’ll likely get different opinions on issues from the three groups. This 360 degree view of the job is important, as it gives you insight from virtually every perspective. Note that your “horizontal” group (clients/customers/peers) may have to grow to vendors or others as appropriate.

Finally, I put together an action plan. I’ve typically called this a “100 day plan”. I try to have it prepared within the first 3 weeks or so (30 days at the most). That’s because it is retroactive back to my first day. In this plan I address key issues, and put together a strategy for tackling each one.

For example, a 100 Day Plan I once put together broke out the action plan into four key areas:

  • Meeting Project Commitments
  • Agree upon project commitments
  • Identify skill and resource gaps to meet commitments.
  • Define our Roles
  • Define our Service Level Agreements (SLA)
  • Layout our support model
  • Resources
  • To meet immediate commitments
  • Long tem (stable environment) requirements
  • Build Know-How
  • Identify key skill gaps.
  • Action Plan to fill gaps.
  • I then present the plan to the team and to key constituents to see if I missed anything and to get buy-in. Then, and this is key, you have to follow up at the end of the 100 days and review how you did.

    Bottom line:  I believe for any transition to be key, you have to first focus on the people, and then put together a measurable, actionable plan to accomplish your goals.

    Taking Credit or getting things done

    “It is amazing how much you can accomplish when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”

    I don’t know who is responsible for this quote.  Some say Abraham Lincoln, others refer to a similar quote made by Ronald Reagan, and still others attribute it to some guy named “anonymous”.

    This quote was brought to my attention this week when some very dear friends took time to honor me for work I had done with Boy Scouts.  When I look back on the good things I’ve accomplished in life, this statement does ring true.  I’ve accomplished most when I focused on the goal and not worried about what I would profit in the end. 

    Unfortunately, more and more I find the primary motivator for people is just the opposite.  I’ve certainly seen it exhibited by many in all walks of life.  Here’s to those who don’t operate that way.