Banish fear a slogan used by quality control guru W. Edwards Deming. He understood that fear froze a workplace, that workers were reluctant to speak up, to share new ideas, or to coordinate well, let alone to improve the quality of their output. I have a nice Ranger School story that describes that condition exactly.
During Florida phase, at Camp Rudder, Eglin A.F. Base located in the pan-handle of Florida, the students are introduced to situations that include heavy equipment such as tanks. The situation for our patrol is that there are tanks and trucks looking for them now. They must use all their training to avoid these obstacles to completing their missions. There is nothing more terrifying for a foot soldier than a tank coming at you through the trees!
Patrols should be planned and executed to arrive at a danger area. Danger areas are any open area like roads, rivers, a cut through trees for power lines, or a meadow, that must be crossed. For roads and power lines the leader wants the patrol to stop a hundred yards, or so, away from the crossing point. The point man should move up perpendicular to the crossing, check for safety, and then bring up the rest of the squad. Scouts cross to check the far side. Once the area appears safe troopers will cross quickly to the other side and then begin movement again on the proper compass heading.
On this particular patrol none of that happened. The point man and compass man and pace man were off and the point man comes on to the road at an angle with the entire patrol strung out behind him. Many of his squad quite near the road.
Enter the tank! The spot the hapless Rangers find themselves in was the bottom of the saddle with a slight rise in the road on either side about a hundred yards in either direction. Just by chance, the enemy tank came over the hill about the time our point man reached the road, the rest of the patrol was strung out behind him in the trees. All Rangers know to take a defensive posture when they stop and they did that perfectly. This is a “cigar” shaped perimeter so leadership can move among the troopers at their feet as they point outward. The tank comes down the hill and rumbles past the troopers hiding in the trees to the rise a hundred yards beyond. All good! Let’s go!
But no one is moving!
Ranger instructors have a closed radio net so we can hear one another, but not the students. I hear my senior instructor, at the front, call the tank back! Something is seriously wrong, I thought, and I begin to move the the front of the formation. I arrive just before the tank makes its next pass. I meet up with my partner and he points ahead to the student patrol leader in a fetal position on the ground! He is in the thick brush with his point-man, less than five feet from the passing tank. It rumbles by again, shaking the ground. That is nerve racking for the best soldier!
Everyone maintains defensive positions with their leader stuck in absolute fear! As the tank drops over the hill the senior instructor is calling the tank back, and I head back through the patrol shouting for the patrol “sergeant” (second in command). The tank comes back over the hill for its third pass. I look at the sergeant and shout; “What’s wrong with this picture!?”
Not accustomed to taking charge (these are graded positions) he stares at me as if to say: “What!?”
I shout: “Something is wrong! Better find out what it is and do something. FAST!”
Before the tank reaches us again he has maneuvered to the front, and found the leader incapacitated. He instructs a couple of troopers to take care of him. Crouched down, and moving through the file, he begins to signal to his squad to flank the road after the tank passes their position. They do; and as the tank drops over the ridge, he runs to the road and shouts for the entire flank to cross! They’re up running, dragging the leader, still incapacitated, with them. . .
This was a training environment and the story ended happily. Our leader obviously had a deep seated, fear of tanks and with the stress of the improper approach to the road was over loaded and his intellect shut down, overcome by the fear in the moment. An extreme, but natural response, given the situation. Our leader failed the patrol, but learned a critical lesson about fear and stress. We had a long conversation with this young Ranger as we knew he was a young officer and this fear must be overcome for the safety of his troops under his command.
Fear can totally disrupt our intellect and short circuit us in this fashion. How do we banish fear? Most of us in the civilian life, business, school, church, family, would never face a situation this extreme. However, we do often face serious situations that will stress us to a “breaking” point. How do we overcome these? First, through similar circumstances faced by those close to us, helping us to develop some experience about it. This adds to our Wisdom—which I called the nexus of knowledge, understanding and experience—and this helps us develop the Courage to face these sorts of events as they present themselves in the future. Stress events help us grow, giving us the confidence to banish fear.
Our lives are filled with various events that we must, with maturity, take responsibility for. Hence, this is our lot in life. It is the purpose of our lives, really. Our simple little rule helps guide us through these daily struggles. We must add little wins over and over again to attain the experience to adapt to the unforeseen circumstances that come our way. And we adapt to these multitudes of trials and tribulations.
The challenge makes our lives worth living. We can take these events and struggle through them, either with the help of someone more experienced or on our own with a variety of outcomes (as long as we survive) that will add to the catalog for future challenges. This is how we grow. Once this confidence is achieved certain of later actions we will be caught in.
There is a “bell curve” of activity from tedious or boring at one extreme to our Ranger’s experience, above, maximum stress/anxiety at the other extreme. However, we function best somewhere in the middle. Each of us discovering our optimum peak. For some more stress, and for others less, but it is not fixed and not always the same. I can handle more stress in some areas of my life and less in others. If we pay attention, we learn what is stressful. Then we can anticipate how to proceed, remaining in our peak performance range
Therefore, you can train for these circumstances in your pursuit for top performance. This is where coaches come in, or mentors. Seek out a person who has the experience and can guide for better performance levels. Additionally, experienced business leaders excel in providing strong support for peak performance. Deming was correct we must banish fear to attain peak performance. Finally, begin to note your stress or anxiety and track performance. Are you sustaining, or failing? Will the tank catch you!?