My dad was not a philosopher. Nor was he prone to preaching or lectures. In fact, he traveled a lot while I was growing up, so I acquired most of what I know and who I am from my mom. But from time to time, Dad would pull me aside and share some wisdom. I remember one such lesson vividly.

I was home from college, and Dad and I were playing a round of golf. He pointed out to me that on three occasions when he’d questioned a choice I’d made while playing, my decisions had been driven by fear: I was afraid of hitting the ball in the pond, going out of bounds, and three-putting.

“So you played it safe,” Dad said.

“What’s your point, Dad?” I asked, fresh from university and full of facts and a new awareness of the vastness of what I did not know.

“Cort, there are three things that will steal your life from you: death, desire, and fear,” Dad said. “Death you can’t do much about. Desire you’ll have to resist every day. But fear––fear is the one that is the most treacherous.”

His words struck me and have stuck with me.

In the early 1990s, I attended a week-long quality summit hosted by Ford Motor Company at their Dearborn, Michigan campus. During the summit, several hundred Ford executives and I were exposed to a genuine heretic, Dr. W. Edwards Deming.

The executives asked Dr. Deming what they could do to improve the quality of their products. The execs were surprised when he responded, “Drive fear out of your workplaces.”

Dad and Dr. Deming’s twin assertions have proven true throughout my experience. As I discussed in last week’s post, I have coached hundreds of individuals and teams in both personal and business matters, and the most common barrier to happiness and success has been fear.

Fear doesn’t just keep businesses from performing well. It keeps us from doing what is right.

Most of us are aware of the passenger who was forcibly dragged off the United flight. We were all willing to demonize United and airport security personnel, but what about the hundred people who sat there and did nothing to stop what was obviously wrong? In these moments, our true character is tested––and I believe his fellow passengers flunked the exam big time.

There will always be bad people, bad gangs, and bad companies. The question is who will I be and what will I say and do when I run into them?