The Fearless Factor: Moving Fear To Trust At Work With Jacqueline Wales

by | Apr 29, 2021 | Podcasts

WGR 564 Jacqueline Wales | Trust At Work


Moving from fear to trust is essential for the success of any organization. Elizabeth Bachman’s guest on the show is Jacqueline Wales, the CEO and founder of Fearless Factor @ Work. In this episode, Jacqueline discusses with Elizabeth how fearlessness is not the absence of fear. It’s the courage to take the next step. Marking a clear roadmap on what the members are supposed to do is a huge factor in building trust. Helping them stay on the right track by giving them consistent feedback is also essential. But it has to be two-way feedback that allows them to speak up and explain where they’re at. Join in the discussion to learn more! 

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The Fearless Factor: Moving Fear To Trust At Work With Jacqueline Wales

Jacqueline Wales, welcome to the show. 

It’s great to be here, Elizabeth. Thanks for having me. 

It’s fun. I go to you for knotty and difficult questions often. You’re one of the people that I consult to say, “How do I think about this?” Before we get into fear, lack of trust, and all of that, let me ask what I ask all my guests, which is if you could interview anybody who is not necessarily with us or not necessarily reachable, who would it be, what would you ask them, who should be listening? 

The first person that came to mind for me was Joseph Campbell. I have been a great admirer of his work. 

For our international readers, tell us who he was. 

He was an American philosopher and he wrote many books on mythology, the underpinnings of mythology, and how it impacts us as human beings. I found his work to be fascinating. I do know somebody who’s had a conversation with Joseph Campbell and he rambles. He has a lot to say. The quote from him that I have used a lot in my life is, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” I would like to know from him what does that means when we talk about the privilege of being who you are because many people have a hard time defining who they are. 

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For many, it’s a lifetime struggle and it’s a lifetime search, so I would be curious to know what his thinking was on that. Anyone who is reading this conversation, I have no doubt in my mind that they would get some great insights into how they can start thinking about their own journeys through life. He’s also responsible for The Hero’s Journey and he talks about how we go on a quest. The privilege of a lifetime of being who you are is your quest. I can hear him responding in similar terms to that. That would be my take on that big question that you asked. 

It’d be great fun to have that, too. It’s great fun to know that. You’re an expert in The Fearless Factor. What is the fearless factor? 

Being fearless is not the absence of fear, but it’s having the courage to take the next step. It’s as simple as that. Many people get stuck because they don’t take the next step or they find all kinds of excuses as to why they’re not taking the next step. That’s my big idea. 

I’m guessing that it would apply to the big fears that you’re consciously aware of but also the little ones that make you not speak up or not step forward or not make you stay safe. 

The big fears and the little fears are in the same category, frankly. I’ll tell you why. A lot of our fears are imagination-based. We make stuff up, put labels on the things that we’re uncertain about, and put excuses in the way of our development and the different things and ways in which we can show up in the world. I like to say that a lot of our fears, if we examine them, they come down to something obvious. Many of us don’t feel like we’re good enough. If you’re struggling with the idea that you’re not good enough and it may be unconscious and unconscious, it doesn’t matter, but it’s there. 

I’ve talked with top senior individuals in corporations and people in the street and you can find that particular piece easily. There’s another piece of this, too, which is that there are some people who believe they’re not lovable. You grew up in a household where love was not expressed or where you didn’t feel like you have that love, then you can carry that around with you for a long time, too. That then becomes a defining piece for intimacy, for instance. 

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Vulnerability is another big issue because when we confront our fears, we have to be a bit vulnerable in order to say, “Yeah, that’s what’s going on.” You have fears around all kinds of big issues like job loss, financial insecurity, and health insecurity. 2020 has been unbelievable in terms of the uncertainty of how we’re living our own lives and what we can do with it. Fear has become a big piece. I talk about fear in terms of being imagination-based because most fears are future-focused. They’re not focused on the here and now. If you don’t have any empirical evidence for it, you’re just making a story. 

That’s what I like to say about fear. Fear is a lot of stories about what can go wrong, a story about all the things I’m expecting to happen to me that may or may not happen. Frequently, when we confront our fears, when you look at these insecurities, and you look at those uncertainties, you find that there’s not a lot of substance to them. Many of us are conditioned to go to that fear place. Thinking positively is a developmental habit, shall we say. It’s a behavioral thing. Too many times, we get caught up in that negative dialogue, what I call the yada yada radio. It’s like, “What channel you’re on,” and switch it to a much more positive point of view. 

It is clear that people need to understand where fear shows up in their lives. You mentioned something about how fear affects trust and how lack of trust, especially in the workplace, can affect us, our performance, careers and company. Can you elaborate on that a little bit? 

I have to say this quite out loud that most companies are fairly dysfunctional. There’s a lot of lack of trust in an organization because they say one thing and do another. I’ll give you an example. I worked for a company that was constantly changing the roles and people didn’t know where they stood. They had hiring practices where people would come on to do a certain job, but nobody gave them a manual and any clear direction on what they needed to do and how they were supposed to show up. They have to figure it out as they went for themselves. How do you build trust in that kind of organization? 

Unfortunately, this is more common than you would think. You talk to a lot of people who are in organizations and they’ll tell you, “I don’t trust my boss.” You know the old axiom of, “We join a company, we leave a boss. Part of that is because I don’t trust him.” I also like to reframe that as, “Do you trust yourself,” because that’s a big developmental piece right there. I’ll give you an example. I grew up in a family where I did not know from moment to moment what was going to happen next. There I no trust there and this is in the family of origin. 

What happens is I’ve developed this pattern of not trusting myself, my decisions, my ability to handle things, and the core of who I am because the trusting yourself piece is really tied into confidence. Do I believe in me? Do I believe in my capabilities? Do I believe that I’m credible? All of those types of thinking. There’s a trust piece attached to that right there. Here’s what I say about leaders. If leaders don’t trust themselves, how do they expect other people to trust them? Inconsistency is what builds a deep distrust. “I don’t know where you’re coming from, therefore, why am I going to be bothered with what you have to say?” 

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You lose the respect piece, too, which is another sign of trust. “If I trust you, I trust that you’re going to have my best interests at heart, then I’m going to be loyal. I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m willing to give you the space to do whatever you’ve got to do because I know that you care for me. I know that you care about whatever is happening here.” If you can’t build that particular piece in, then people are going about their own thing and figuring out, “They’ll do their thing. They’ll do our thing.” What happens is performance goes down. People are not building strong relationships. The communication habits go out the door. 

Everybody gets pulled into hoarding, if you like. It’s my little piece of the pie here. It’s territorial, so I don’t know what you’re going to do with this. The trust factor is huge in an organization, but nobody works on it. They don’t understand. They start with the individual. The companies have one thing in common, which is people. They also have the same challenge in common, which is people. If you’re not dealing with the people, helping them to become more engagedcollaborative, and increasing their ability to perform, then you’re going to end up with, “I’m just going to do my job and get my paycheck. What do I care?” This undermines the entire operation, frankly, and there’s not enough attention paid to thisin my opinion. 

The wonderful and brilliant Jennifer Cohen says, “No app can fix a broken team.” Jacqueline, this is all fascinating. How do we notice when we’re in the middle of fear? How do we recognize when we’re caught in it and know what to do next? 

One of the ways in which I work with individuals and companies, in general, is I do these 360 behavioral assessments and we’re looking at specific types of behaviors, whether it’s passive-aggressive or aggressive-defensive, or constructive. Clearly, we want to drive more constructive behaviors. These are scientifically measured, so when I look at the specifics of the behaviors, I frequently find underneath that there is some fear-based stuff. For instance, in the workplace, you’ll find a lot of perfectionists. 

The perfectionists are the ones who set high standards for themselves and they set high standards for those they work with, too. They work long hours. They put a lot of pressure on people to perform and so forth. What is behind that perfectionism? Perfectionism is, “I’m not good enough, so I have to keep proving myself.” If I take another behavioral style like competitive people, they need to win and they need to be at the front of the queue. These are the hard-driving kind. 

You find a lot of salespeople with a high competitive piece. We need some of that. We need a little perfectionism. We need a little competition. We need all of it, frankly. The point being is that when your high competitiveness is like, “I need to prove myself again,” comes up and you’re questioning. For instance, highly competitive people will look at somebody else and go, “I need to be like them.” I like to go back to Oscar Wilde and say, “Be yourself because everybody else is taken. 

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How can we recognize if we’re beginning to act from fear instead of from a better, more useful place? 

What’s the first thing you know when you’re in fear? There’s something in the pit of your stomach. It says something for most people. You get this, “I’m not sure I want to go there,” and then the yada yada starts up in your head. You’ll find all kinds of excuses why you can’t go there and you can run a whole litany of things that are getting them the way of that. 

It’s also the little ones I find for me in particular. I am a super procrastinator. I’m good at procrastinating. I have to set up all sorts of accountability partners and things to get me to finish things because I’m good at doing 80%, and then it’s not interesting so I never finish the 20%. There’s also a fear that goes into avoidance where it’s like, “I’m not going to think about that.” Any tips on recognizing that? 

You’re already recognizing it. You’re clear that you have some habits that are not working for you, which are your procrastination and avoidance. As a coach, my job is always to say, “What do you think that’s about for you?” To dig in a little bit deeper on that is to say, “What are the rewards you’re getting out of being a procrastinator or avoiding these things?” There are two sides to this whole thing in terms of, “What do you think that’s about and what are the rewards for this?” 

Only you can answer that, but I would say that if you’re procrastinating a lot, maybe you’re somebody who loves to live on deadlines. You work better when you’re on deadlines. That’s always a possibility. I can certainly see that a little bit for myself. I’m highly productive in many different ways, but there are certain areas in my life that I can do much better on. I know that but I’m not going there, so then I have to look at that and go, “What’s that about? Where are you getting your own way with regards to this?” 

If we get to the point of recognizing it, clearly, that’s step one. Do you have any tips or suggestions for an easy little bitty step to take? Sometimes, it seems like such a huge thing. Is there a step that we could take that would be a small step but help us in a useful direction? 

A lot of the time, if we take procrastination as our subject matter and think about this in terms of it’s a big project, we look at that and we go, “I’ll get to it later.” What if I was to take one tiny little piece of this and it’s going to take me ten minutesI can identify that ten minutes and do it. If you’re talking about teeny little steps, it’s ten-minute increments. Let’s say you’re putting together a presentation. The idea of putting together a presentation is like, “I got all these slides I’ve got to create and I got to find images.” 

How about you start off by agreeing with yourself you’re going to do one? That’s all. You then start on that one slide. Frequently, what happens is you get yourself excited about it. Suddenly, you’ve got 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 going on because you’re in the groove. It’s like writing a book. I’ve written three books in my life. I know that if I don’t show up and do something, nothing gets done. It’s the same thing for anything that comes down to procrastination. What are the rewards for you in procrastinating? 

I think about habits from childhood. The reward for procrastination is to go off and eat chocolate or something. Maybe I reward myself with chocolate once I have done the thing I was putting off. Let’s go back to trust and how that functions in a team. How can we notice when we are acting from fear or lack of trust? How can we address that? 

What excuses are you putting in front of whatever it is that you are trying to do? I say that because we are all good at making excuses. “I’m too busy. I’ve got other things to do. I’ve got to see somebody. I need somebody to do this for me before I can do that.” There’s a lineup of things that can stand up as reasonable, but if it’s something that matters to you, then you get it done. If I’m feeling fearful about something, let’s say difficult conversations. People hate difficult conversations. I have talked to somebody about something I’m uncomfortable about. What do you need to do? You need to sit down and rehearse. You need to sit down and figure out what this conversation is going to look like. 

If you’ve got a coach who’s working with you on these and hopefully, you do, you’re going to be talking about how you can position this differently. Too many times in the corporate environment, feedback is like, “We’ll give me all the negative news, and then we’ll tell you what you can change.” There you go. Easy. Out the door. Performance reviews show that is. We look at this in terms of, “How can I reframe this? I’m noticing that things are not going too well right now, but I’d like to hear a little bit more about what you think is going on.”  

You’re empowering that person to have some say in it because too much of the difficult conversations are about, “I’m going to tell you how I feel and how everything is wrong, but what I’m interested in as if I go into a positive side of this is help me understand. There are a few things here that haven’t been working. I know that we can do better with this, so why don’t you help me understand what you’re seeing on your side of things?” You’re then opening it up for a dialogue. That may or may not go anywhere. You might go in into this conversation where you know what the outcome is. Your ass is out the door. 

WGR 564 Jacqueline Wales | Trust At Work

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At the same time, you want them to be going out the door going, “Thank you. You did me a favor,” but that doesn’t happen very often. Most of them go out with resentment and so forth. Coming back to that fear and trust piece, trust yourself that you know how to have the conversation. If you’re fearful about it, write it out before you get there. It’s like public speaking. People hate public speaking. You know the old joke about Jerry Seinfeld saying, “I’m up here on the stage and most people would rather be in a pine box going out the door than here right now.” 

One of the things about feedback is that many people, especially women, tend to take it personally instead of recognizing it as information. I think about that line from the movie, You’ve Got Mail where “It’s not personal, it’s just business. For the Meg Ryan character, it was personal. I now look back and I say, “I learned about this when I looked about the way men communicate and the way women communicate.” How can you accept feedback and go on? If you don’t trust the other person, it’s hard. 

There you come. It’s like, “If I don’t trust you, then I’m only expecting you to give me a hard time.” If you built that trust with people, they’re willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. “I’m not coming in here knowing that you’re going to slam me with whatever it is. I’m coming in here trusting that we’ve got something to talk about here.” That is a safe space because another big piece missing in the workplace is that psychological safety. There have been many books written about it. 

Amy Edmondson spoke on The Fearless Organization about how you create psychological safety in the workplace. That’s about giving people permission to have an opinion and giving people permission to be able to say, “That doesn’t work for me, but I’m willing to explore and see what we can do to work more amicably together.” There’s another book I’d like to recommend called An Everyone Culture. It’s by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. This is an open candid culture in an organization where everybody has the right to weigh in within certain limits and has the right to be able to have a voice in whatever it is. That’s a trust factor right there. This is something you want to think about. 

Jacqueline Wales, it has been such an honor and a delight to have you on the show. If you are a reader who’s intrigued by this conversation, where could we start? 

I would start with my website, There are a lot of resources on the website that is free and you can go download them. If you want to examine your fear, we’ve got a little PDF on how to examine your fears. If you want to think about what your limited belief is, we’ve got programs that address that as well. There’s a lot of information on the website that does address some of the more critical issues that confront us in the workplace, as well as some great blog articles and some podcasts that I’ve done previous to yours, Elizabeth. There’s lots of information there. Help yourself. 

WGR 564 Jacqueline Wales | Trust At Work

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Thank you, Jacqueline. I’m delighted to have you as a guest on Speakers Who Get Results. I’d like to remind you that if you are interested in finding out how your presentation skills are strong and where you might need a little help, go to our free quiz at In four minutes, you can see where you’re strong and where a little support might get you the recognition and the results that you need. I’ll see you at the next one. 


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About Jacqueline Wales

For more than 35 years, Jacqueline Wales has explored human behavior and asked tough questions to discover hard truths. She believes in the power of fearlessness to create the career and life you want.

As a motivational speaker, professional coach, author of The Fearless Factor and other books, Jacqueline has helped countless people become more empowered, confident, and resilient. Her work focuses on leaders who will dig into self-discovery, take accountability for their actions, and responsibility for their decisions.

She challenges herself daily to be better and challenges her clients to do the same—pushing boundaries and breaking through excuses to achieve results.