Are You Using the Right “F” Word?

As the connection between neuroscience and leadership (and overall performance) becomes more evident, the conversations about the amygdala and Fight, Flight or Freeze responses become more ubiquitous. “Frenzy” is another “F” to add to that list. Together, I call these the Undermining F’s:

  • Fight – the desire to battle, fend off, or engage in a win/lose dynamic with a strong need for quick resolution
  • Flight – the urge to run, hide, avoid, ignore, or escape in some fashion to protect oneself from a perceived harm
  • Freeze – a sense of immobility; left without options; mind and body stopped right in their tracks; inaction
  • Frenzy – jumping into multiple actions with a reactive mindset and without planning; often accompanied by rapid thinking and speaking or losing a train of thought; frenzy might look like panic

They all fall under the bigger umbrella F of Fear. They all kick our survival instincts into gear.

Most of us have been in these mental scenarios at one time or another.

It doesn’t have to be a major crisis, but it’s usually something that drives us toward the edge of our comfort zones and provokes enough negative internal energy that we react in an ineffective, fruitless manner.

Cast your memory back to the interactions you’ve had over the last few months, and you’ll probably find something that fits into one of these mindsets. Consider how your thinking, communications, or behaviors followed suit.

Maybe it’s a high stakes decision you didn’t feel prepared for, or a senior executive interrupting your presentation with a question out of left field, or your boss wiggling out of that career pathing conversation yet again.

We might later look back on that situation with regret or embarrassment or frustration knowing we could have handled it better. Whatever “it” is was a trigger and, in the moment, exactly how we could have handled it better was elusive.

The Fight, Flight, Freeze or Frenzy reactions dull your critical thinking capabilities and can blind you to alternative approaches. Don’t feel bad … this happens to even the most seasoned leaders. Below is a story from a talented and inspiring executive client of mine when he was in the queue for a C-Suite level promotion.

In one particularly political and emotionally charged situation, he described his reaction viscerally … like watching his authenticity fly out the window while he tried to survive the moment and simply not do the wrong thing. He could see the way forward but couldn’t find his voice. This was unusual for him, so we worked on his F (Freeze) and added new tools to his toolkit so he could confidently manage his reaction the next time he finds himself in a similar place … because as a senior leader dealing with multiple complexities on a daily basis, he’ll definitely be there again!

How do we combat these Undermining F’s so that we are true to ourselves and bring the best we have to bear?

With another F word … Facilitate.

Defining and Honing the Ability to “Facilitate” so You Respond Like the Leader You Are


The definition of Facilitate is:

The act of making something easier; facility brings ease of performance; inviting discourse that leads to a more productive action, operation, or course of conduct; aptitude

This simple definition offers us a liberating change in perspective … one with a lot less personal pressure. Facilitation takes your focus off of how you’re going to attack a problem and instead focuses on asking your stakeholders the right questions in order to generate the best solutions together.

Productive facilitation demands a degree of vulnerability. It requires you to accept that some things are out of your wheelhouse. It causes you to acknowledge – even laud – someone else as a better resource or expert.

You’ll need to become comfortable saying, “I don’t know,” while tacking on something like, “but I believe Susan has good insights we can tap … Susan?”

Or you might ask, “Who has expertise in this space who isn’t in this room, but should be?”

Some leaders operate under the false belief that they should possess all the necessary knowledge and experience required for strategic thinking. None of us can claim that. By ignoring traditional participation hierarchies and engaging those with deeper, more current expertise, you demonstrate humility and confidence, while stretching the boundaries of what’s possible.

A simple prompt in a conversation, such as, “Say more about that” is a great way to foster knowledge and perspective exchange. You can ask others to build on a teammate’s concept or share different ideas and experiences. The more you draw from others, the more combinations of solutions you can create.

Finally, here’s a watch out: Facilitating inherently means you will get novel ideas and opposing perspectives. You might disagree with recommendations or not know how to respond. We often think we need to make a decision about others’ suggestions in the moment. These circumstances can trigger your Undermining F.

Practice going into brainstorming and decision-making discussions with curiosity and patience. Often, the leader’s role is to listen and consider. Ask a follow-up question. Keep an open mind. Give yourself some grace.

Facilitation, when coming from integrity, requires a willingness to relinquish ego and perceived power in order to co-create well-informed and tightly constructed strategies that leverage the experience, skills and knowledge of the collective.

That generates engagement and collaboration, which in turn, creates the space for your leadership.

In an upcoming post, I’ll share suggestions for managing your own Undermining F’s so that you can move from Fear to Facilitation.

And if you already know you want personal support to refine your presence and impact, contact me directly at Let’s explore your objectives and how I might be of support.

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