I think of business as an ecosystem of relationships. Honor in business is all about stewarding these relationships well—both the internal relationships between leaders and team members, and external relationships between businesses and vendors, competitors, regulators, and customers.
The goal in every relationship, whether personal or professional, is the same: forming, sustaining, and protecting a healthy connection. Connection is the foundation for anything human beings accomplish together, whether it is growing a family or providing valued goods and services for customers. The health of our connections determines the success of our collaborations.
As Danny often points out, the health of our connections can be measured by the level of anxiety that is normal to them. Unhealthy connections are characterized by unhealthy behavioral dynamics that raise anxiety—disrespectful communication (whether passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive), manipulation, control, irresponsibility, and even abuse. Healthy connections consistently lower anxiety through respectful, honest communication, trust, and responsibility.
Lowering anxiety in our business relationships is critical for a couple reasons. For one thing, low-anxiety, healthy connections are the foundation for any team to leverage their collective intelligence and mutual trust in problem-solving and collaboration. For another, we need the strength of healthy connections to help lower our own fear. Business is inherently risky and vulnerable, and the pressures of performance, productivity, and profit-making are intense. When we’re unhealthy (disconnected, isolated, afraid of what people think, unable to be vulnerable, under shame, etc.), we tend to deal with these challenges in ways that only increase fear. But when we are healthy and surround ourselves with healthy people, we naturally work together to channel the intensity of these pressures in a positive direction.
Here are three specific areas of fear that we must actively work to quiet in our relational ecosystem as people of honor in business, and some of the ways in which we do so:
The Fear of Lack
The fear of lack fosters a poverty mentality. When we look at the world through the lens of scarcity or “there’s never enough,” we end up thinking and behaving in ways that hurt connection. We become absorbed in protecting and providing for ourselves. We get jealous and envious of what others have. We accumulate, hoard, and grasp for resources—not only money, but also people, opportunities, and positions. Left unchecked, the fear of lack is ultimately toxic to teams and businesses.
In honoring relationships, we seek to operate with an abundance or sufficiency mentality—the belief that there are enough resources and opportunities for everyone to overcome their challenges or deficits and to grow, succeed, and flourish. This means that when we experience lack or limited resources, we don’t respond self-protective ways that hurt connection. Rather, we work to solve the lack issue in a way that protects and sustains connections.
I have a friend who made a deal a few years ago to build and operate a distribution center for one of his largest customers. Shortly after the deal was made, however, the business cycle hit a downturn, and this planned expansion no longer made sense. Instead of going silent or going into massive debt to honor the deal, he scheduled meetings with all involved and told them, “I’m sorry, but I can no longer honor our original deal because of these economic issues. However, I do have a solution that I think should work for both of us. I’d like to refit one of our existing facilities to distribute for you.” His customer was not thrilled at first, but appreciated my friend’s honesty in the situation and agreed to go forward with his proposal.
Lack, limits, and setbacks happen all the time in business. But we can lower the fear of these things by pursuing solutions that honor our connections.
The Fear of Failure
None of us likes to make mistakes or fall short of expectations. But building our lives or careers around trying to avoid these things is a bad idea. Failure is essential to learning and growth. Running from it turns us into people who are resistant to learning, which in the end means we become people who make the same mistakes over and over again.
In honoring relationships, we approach one another with a growth mentality. We expect each other to fail on the road to success, and work to create a safe place for that to happen. This means that we do the following things:
- We trust people with freedom and responsibility
- We offer them feedback on their choices and the ensuing consequences
- We remove all judgment and punishment from the learning process
- We work to maintain and restore connection through failure
The Fear of Disconnection
“The fear of disconnection” is one of Brené Brown’s definitions of shame. I see this fear as being the deeper fear underlying the two fears described above. When we fear lack, I think we are actually afraid of experiencing the message of shame that lack sends us—the message that we are less than, unworthy. Likewise, when we fear failure, we are actually afraid of the shame of failure—the message that our mistakes diminish our worth. Ultimately, the shame of lack and failure create the expectation that people will judge, criticize, reject, shun, and disconnect from us.
In honoring relationships, we lower the fear of disconnection by proving, over and over again, that neither lack, failure, nor anything else can make us choose disconnection. No matter the situation, we continue to move toward one another and create a relational experience with high levels of trust, safety, and belonging—the primary elements of a healthy connection.
Even in business, we can choose to honor and protect connections no matter what. We can choose it when team members or customers choose to move on, and even when a partner, leader, team member, or customer does something dishonoring and then refuses to clean up the mess. In the latter situations, if you know you’ve done all to hold up your end of the connection honorably, it may end in a termination, sanction, boycott, or other legal action. But even in these, we can pursue the goal of connection.