Beyond F.E.A.R. with Allison Aker Davis
“Inclusion in decision-making and goal-setting is one of the main things that engage people, making them feel like they’re part of something bigger—and that eliminates F.E.A.R.” — Allison Aker Davis
I had the delight of speaking with Allison Aker Davis, Coaching Culture Strategist, organization consultant, and executive coach. She is the Principal of Aker Davis LLC, an evidence-based coaching and organization effectiveness consulting firm.
- Redefining fear
- Culturally responsive leadership
- Breaking cycles of fear during times of change
How do you define fear? As one of our base-level instincts, that emotion has many layers and categories. We’re looking at fear within the workplace and what that means psychologically.
“It's not the kind of fear where a grizzly bear is chasing you.” Allison explains, “It's the kind of fear as a lens within us, what we see the world as being and when we hold ourselves back.”
Allison was working with a coach when the word fear took on a new meaning. The coach described fear as False Evidence Appearing Real. “That changed my mindset permanently. Because I realized that the lens I was seeing the world was the lens of false evidence appearing real.” she continues.
Naturally, there are some things in life worth being afraid of for survival purposes and common sense—fear in the name of self-preservation is valuable. However, when we put thoughts into our conscious space that hold us back or stop us from trying to achieve a goal we want, we should pause and examine those feelings.
“We need to pull them apart. When we look at faults—is it real, or is it a belief system that I've created in my head? And do I need to then say, ‘Alright, how can we look at this differently, to shift the perspective, or shift the mindset to remove whatever barrier we have to do what we want?’” she explains.
Culturally responsive leadership
Fear poisons organizations like no other emotion can. When a team enters their place of work or even a virtual environment and feels afraid to contribute, speak up, or fail, that sensation travels with them into every project they touch.
“If a team operates in fear because they fear making a mistake, and their leader is—for example—a perfectionist, then the team will start to operate in a way where they don't make the best decisions, look at alternatives, or expand possibilities for achieving their goals,” Allison explains.
In a world of “kill or be killed” company cultures, we see demotivation, fear, and undue pressure that cripples potential and knocks out most progress at the knees. There is a better way to drive results.
A collaborative environment supports innovation, equity, inclusion, and diversity. When mistakes happen, there is no shaming or blaming. Instead, there is learning and moving forward with grace.
“I believe we can eliminate fear when we are supported and are in a community within our organizations.” She continues, “It's about being resilient, and it's about dealing with setbacks, but it's the environment we create around us that helps us deal with those setbacks. It's not always being happy, but at least being even. It's being insightful and aware.”
Culturally responsive leadership, in essence, is a leader looking into the organization and understanding the culture and what the culture needs to provide for people to be successful. Culture exists no matter if you’re in-person or remote—there’s no easy way out of building a solid, collaborative culture, and there’s so substitute for genuine insight.
“It's looking under the iceberg.” She explains, “We see the tip, which might be day-to-day work, but we need to see underneath it and how that work affects people. How being on a team affects people, and how the leader affects people. To be culturally responsive is taking that more insightful look organizationally.”
Breaking cycles of fear during times of change
Going from a volatile to a collaborative culture is not an overnight venture. Real change takes time—and change, as we all know, is one of the more substantial sources of fear out there. Even positive change creates stress.
Allison shares her three steps for addressing change and breaking out of fear.
- Understand change and your reaction to it—is it a fear-based reaction? Are you excited by the change?
- Explore yourself—if you've had a similar change in the past, what can you change as you're going through this? How can you adjust your mindset?
- Find resources—do you need coaching? New reading material? A mentor?
Community is our best resource for successfully navigating change. Collaboration and purpose drive out fear and encourage growth.
“We've been through an exceptional amount of change in the last few years. I would argue even before the pandemic. Bringing people's voices in can put their skin back in the game, help them feel valued, and help them create new possibilities.” Allison shares, “When we create inclusion, people feel a part of something bigger. And that eliminates fear.”
Overcoming fear does not have to be complicated. It can be as simple as asking ourselves questions until we’re able to look outside of the situation and formulate a plan.
When was the last time you examined the source of your fear? What habits could be contributing to that fear?