An Open Letter: The Choice is Yours

I’ve gotten a few questions over the week on last week’s blog post and how to bring traumatic issues to closure and move forward. As I was driving one afternoon I began to imagine myself as a plant manager for a Japanese owned factory in China. Some of these factories have been shuttered due to the protests over the Diaoyudao islands in the East China Sea.

Senkaku Islands

The relationship between Japan and China has many dark moments. Most recently, between 1931 and 1945 Japan carried out barbarous attacks in China. While one could argue that several generations have passed since then, the trauma and losses are not easily forgotten.

I drafted a statement and have worked with Nancy Wiser of Wiser Strategies who advises clients on how to handle crises, to craft a message that would help in such a time of crisis. Here is the statement I would make…

“We understand the concern the citizens of China have over the islands between Japan and China and we understand the history between our two countries. We regret what our ancestors have done in China and unfortunately there is nothing that can be done about the past except to acknowledge it and express our regret for it.

“Beyond that, there is nothing you can do about that, there is nothing I can do about it. We can only move forward.

“We respect all of you as citizens of China and citizens of the world. We would like to continue to work with you. We would like to move forward. We would like to put the past behind us.

“You and I cannot control what our governments do. While we can vote and express ourselves peacefully in the streets as you have done, we cannot absolutely control our governments.

“I would like us to focus on moving forward. What can we do in this city today, at this factory to move forward? You can make a choice, we in our company can make a choice. Do you wish to prosper together? We are in business together. We have a factory here and would like for all of us to prosper.

“Every day that we are closed you lose money and we lose money. If you would like to work together to move forward, to create jobs, to help build a lifestyle that you would like and that we would like, then let us figure out how to work together peacefully.

“In this moment the choice is yours. Again, we respect each and every one of you as citizens of the world. We ask that you come together with us to build a prosperous business. The choice is yours and we sincerely hope that you will choose to move forward with us. Thank you.”

Keywords: leadership, trauma, grief, protests, riots, Senkaku islands, Diaoyudao islands

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Are You Leading From Fear or Openness?

Over the past several months I have witnessed a fascinating diversity of leadership with respect to the polarities of fear and openness. One view of our world is that polarities exist for everything—black vs. white, hot vs. cold, up vs. down, and of course, fear vs. openness.

You can take your leadership to the next level by learning to harness the power of fear and openness as well as respecting the dark side of these emotions.

Man Screaming

Let’s look at fear first. Fear can be debilitating as well as energizing. Imagine you are fearful of changes in your team. You might be afraid of team members leaving, becoming burned out, or quarreling over frivolous issues. Any of these have the potential to decimate your team’s ability to meet it’s goals.

On the other hand, as the title of Andy Grove’s book states, only the paranoid survive. We all can do well with a healthy amount of fear. For example, fear of getting run over by a car keeps us alive as we walk across the street. Fear of our competitors gives us a good incentive to develop sound strategies and superior products. The trick is to use fear wisely and keep it in balance.

The other side of this polarity, openness, works in a similar fashion. You may be so open to new ideas and processes that you never get your current tasks completed. However, if you are too low in openness, you may stifle new processes, products, or strategies. In addition, a high level of openness is important in the early stages of a project but can be devastating in the final stages when you need to be converging toward a final solution and completion of tasks.

Now let’s throw the idea of change into this discussion, both internal and external change.

Change outside of your group, external change, is out of your control and it is healthy to fear it to the extent that you prepare for possible changes. If you fear external changes too much you may become impaired and end up freezing. Embrace the gamut of possible changes and develop strategies to deal with them.

Any changes you make internal to your team may be alarming as well. Team members may need to adjust to new roles and work assignments. Conflicts may arise during the adjustment period and some individuals may end up in roles they are not well suited for. However, remaining open to changes within your team can bring you to higher achievements and greater success.

As with all reflective work, awareness is the first step. Observe your emotions so that you are aware when fear emerges. Notice how fear can enhance your business strategies. Ask yourself how open you are when team members bring you innovative ideas. The ideas may also bring you fear. If so, feel the fear, juxtapose it with the openness, and explore the interplay of these two polarities.


  • Using fear wisely and precisely for positive gain can help you become more effective
  • Too much fear can debilitate you as a leader
  • A great degree of openness can help you embrace new ideas
  • Too much openness can delay or prevent completion of projects

Keywords: leadership, openness, fear, change


  • Kaiser, R. B., & Kaplan, R. B. (2006). The deeper work of executive development: Outgrowing sensitivities. The Academy of Management Learning & Education, 5(4), 463-483.
  • Krause, D. E. (2004). Influence-based leadership as a determinant of the inclination to innovate and of innovation-related behaviors: An empirical investigation. The Leadership Quarterly, 15(1), 79-102.
  • LePine, J. A., Colquitt, J. A., & Erez, A. (2000). Adaptability to changing task contexts: Effects of general cognitive ability, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. Personnel Psychology, 53(3), 563-593.
  • Suárez, J. G. (1993). Managing fear in the workplace (TQLO Publication No. 93-01). Department of the Navy TQL Office.
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