Recently, I read a long article about the movie Jaws. What has come to be known as a genre-defining film had a production absolutely plagued with issues, including a malfunctioning mechanical shark. In a move that is rife with logistical lessons, the shark had only been tested in fresh water and had mechanical problems when introduced to the significantly more corrosive saltwater ocean filming location. In addition to scripting delays, infighting among the cast, a literal sinking ship, and other issues, some of the scenes had to be completely reimagined now that the shark was deemed mechanically unreliable. Because of that poor planning and lack of testing, the eventual audience got those iconic anticipation scenes. You likely know them well: dramatic camera shots of starkly lit, dangling human legs, legendary music, chaotic splashing, and a lone severed limb floating to the bottom of the ocean. In fact, the shark doesn’t make its onscreen appearance until more than a full hour into the film! You may also be shocked to know that the total screen time for the shark is fewer than five minutes. How can something we likely all remember as so terrifying show up so late and for such a short amount of time? This is an excellent lesson that the anticipation of something scary is WAY WORSE than the confrontation of that scary thing. I’ll say it again for the people in the back: anticipation is much scarier than confrontation.
What can a malfunctioning mechanical shark teach us about leadership? It turns out quite a bit.
Confront the scary thing.
What is it on your to-do list that keeps getting pushed because it’s too big or too frightening to tackle? Is it a difficult conversation with someone on your team? A stretch assignment? A termination that is long overdue? An honest conversation with a service provider about sub-par performance? While none of those things are necessarily fun to tackle, the longer you put them off and build up the anticipation, the worse the task (and you) will feel. I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing stress and anxiety before doing something that makes me uncomfortable. I can create some pretty fantastical scenarios in my mind of all the things that COULD go horribly and embarrassingly wrong. In reality, it’s incredibly rare for any of those things to actually happen. All I’ve done in creating those scenarios is manufacture unnecessary stress, lose sleep, and allow a situation to potentially get further out of control. I’ve let the fear of the metaphorical shark stop me from even having the chance to get a bigger boat! It’s falling victim to scary anticipation instead of seizing control. How can we peek out from between our fingers and just do the dang thing? Here are some tips for overcoming the fear anticipation creates: