The Top Task for CEOs in 2022? It Might Be Managing Fear

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An end of year survey by Axios found that people of all political persuasions are substantially more fearful about 2022 than they were about 2021. And to be clear, they were already trepidatious about 2021. Overall, we’ve moved from 36% of the population to 54% being more fearful than hopeful—a year over year increase of 34%!

Why should this matter to CEOs? Because the most important lesson the pandemic has taught us is that people don’t stop being human at work. They bring their humanity, including their fears and aspirations, to work. When work itself is a source of stress, and when people don’t feel either safe or valued, their engagement and productivity plummet. The fact that the number one worry reported in the survey is the stability of respondents’ own jobs and the broader economy, CEOs ignore this at their own peril. The “great resignation” of 2021 makes it clear that tens of millions of employees are willing to leave their jobs if the conditions are, on balance, more negative than positive.

After jobs and the economy, the number two fear is for democracy itself, followed by healthcare. Since many Americans get their healthcare through their employer, two of the top four worries are work related!

So, what are executives to do?

First, the lessons of the initial two years of pandemic are as urgent in 2022 as they have been so far. Executives must focus on people leadership and that includes a few central issues.

  • Making the work environment safe and stable
  • Supporting employee wellbeing, including mental health
  • Focusing on coaching and development rather than performance evaluation
  • Recognizing and validating the humanity at the core of employees/personnel/workers

Leading in the current environment is more natural for some executives than others. The reality is that many leaders came up through the ranks in organizations that look little like what is described above and were trained to see employees as an expense line item whose value was measured solely by productivity. In fact, it is fair to say that in many cases people have been seen as disposable, not much different from technologies or marketing campaigns. That approach is proving to be broadly untenable in today’s world.

The most effective contemporary leaders have several traits in common. Probably most importantly, after an uncompromised focus on people, they recognize that they achieve more success through others than through their own efforts or technical expertise, which, of course, requires a focus on people! Secondly, they are comfortable, if not enthusiastic, about decentralizing control across the organization, thereby empowering the human capital under their purview. Relatedly, they reward innovation and risk-taking, which not only meets employee needs for self-efficacy and self-actualization, it also dramatically increases the organization’s capacity to operate in hyperchange, hypercompetitive markets! Lastly, effective leaders use emotional intelligence to know when to engage the people in their sphere with compassion and empathy. They are also comfortable expressing their own vulnerability and humanity, which by the way, is essential to reducing fear and creating a sense of safety. As noted in the title of this article, that may be the most important task of CEOs in 2022.

The really good news is that even leaders for whom the traits and skills described above do not match how they were developed or what they typically lean on in difficult times, it is possible to learn new ways of leading and being. At the Transformation Collaborative™, our leadership development opportunities are frankly unlike anything available elsewhere. We work with small groups to stretch leaders beyond where they’ve gone before and challenge them to consider more than they thought possible. If you’d like to talk about how we can help you transform as a leader, reach out to us here.

One thought on “The Top Task for CEOs in 2022? It Might Be Managing Fear

  1. Hi, Wallace. Thanks for the post.

    I’m almost finished a book “The fear free mind” which is a (proven) psychodynamic technique to permanently remove fear from people. Obviuosly I have neither your education nor experience, but several of the topics I address overlap your work in areas.

    I realise you are probably extremely busy, but I would love to get some feedback from you if you are feeling charitable (or curious: I’m told it’s reasonably entertaining and informative).

    I have put the opening section here:

    Please pop over and have a look if you have the time and the inclination.

    Just to be clear: I am not asking you for an endorsement or whatever: just some feedback :-).

    Thanks in advance.



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