Defeating the Fear Monster! Part 2

Fear Monster Canyon

In my last article, Defeating the Fear Monster! Part 1, I listed the fears that make up what Jim Haudan, CEO and Founder or Root Inc, calls the Fear Monster. 

In Part 2, I will focus on two specific strategies that managers and supervisors can use to help all employees lead through the never-ending change we face at the workplace.

The strategies are:

 Using Visuals and Establishing a Common Language

As the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words, so lets start with the visual.

Using Visuals

Take a moment and examine the stories found in “The Canyon” picture above.

As I mentioned in my first article, Root Inc’s ability to develop powerful imagery to simplify complex topics is truly superior.  The image above, called The Canyon, quickly shows why I feel so strongly about the many talents of Jim Haudan and his team of gifted artists.

First and foremost, does the Canyon depict a scary place?

Not only are the symbolic precipices scary, there is a huge tornado coming!

That tornado symbolizes CHANGE;  the main reason Jim accounts to our inability to feel safe at work.  Constant change…

Now let’s take a close look at the middle-manager for a moment.

Fear Monster Middle Manager

Not only is the middle manager about to get swallowed by the tornado, he is getting pulled apart by two forces that are not in alignment!

  • Does this image scare you?
  • Have you ever felt like this at work?
  • Not only have I felt like this for most of my career, many of my employees feel the same way!
  • In terms of feedback, do you think it is easy for a middle manager to explain to senior management that he that he finds himself pulled in two different directions?
  • That seems like a tough message to deliver, don’t you think?
  • Or, is it easier for middle managers to look at a visual like The Canyon when it is being shared by the senior executives and say, “We often feel like this.”

[More on this in the Common Language section of the article below.]

Engineered Brilliance

In his passionate and wise manner, Jim explains that well crafted visuals are:

“elegantly engineered brilliance… The brain gym for systemic thinking.”

Visuals can help us discuss and understand our shared situations.  By using visuals we can simplify context that helps us create a shared meaning with our audience.  In the case of The Canyon, the audience is the workforce.

While Root Inc. is in a class by itself when it comes to developing imagery that can capture the challenges facing an organization, we all can use images to help us find shared meaning with those who work with us.

Some of us may be able to develop graphics, while others can draw on boards, and, of course, there is always the internet, where I found The Canyon and shared it with my staff years ago.

Establishing a Common Language

Do you see some similarities between The Canyon and places where you have worked or your current workplace?

I see so many similarities!

Would it surprise you to know that The Canyon was first published over 20-years ago?

I was truly amazed when Jim told me this!  And the interesting part is – many of the same issues that were going on 20 years ago are still happening in organizations today! I asked Jim if The Canyon was based on one specific company and he explained that he had encountered these issues in company after company, after company.

Thanks to their learning design expertise and visual design skills, Jim and his team have been successful in helping companies develop a common language.   Jim explained that when teams find time to feel that they are in it together, all collaborators and accountable for the success of the organization, they develop partnerships and new standards.

Time after time teams have converted areas of dissatisfaction into shared future collaborations.

Defeating the Fear Monster 

As I mentioned in the example of the middle-manager, it is a lot easier and a lot less scary for all of us to share tough messages when there is a shared meaning.

I was recently involved in a conflict with a  manager whom I have worked with for more than 7 years.   I needed to find a safe way for us to work through the issue, so I emailed him The Canyon graphic and asked if he felt like the middle manager in the illustration.

The strategy worked exactly as I had hoped!

He replied with a smiley and explained that he felt I was the senior manager pulling in one direction and his staff was pulling him in the other.  The stress and tension we had both been feeling was over.  We then met and worked together to solve the issue in a spirit of collaboration.

Before, we were at odds.  He was afraid that I was going to be upset with him and I was afraid to tell him I didn’t know all the answers.

After I sent him the graphic and we met, we partnered and did the best we could do, together.

The visual helped us develop a common language.

We not only used this strategy to help the organization move forward, we were able to maintain our relationship!

Now it’s your turn…

Do you identify with The Canyon? If so, in which area to do find yourself? Were you surprised that Root Inc published the Canyon in 1992? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Al Gonzalez
Al Gonzalez is Founding Partner at GIVE Leadership
He helps clients develop trust and leverage the strengths of all team members
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Image Sources: Root Inc.

L2L Contributing Author