Challenging Your Hobgoblins

By Nora Infante, PSYD

The singular most powerful obstacle to trying new behaviors is fear (fear of failure, fear of humiliation, fear of vulnerability, of being exposed, etc.).  We take our fears seriously and they often play an important role in the personal and professional decisions we make.  Instead of confronting fears we tend to avoid them, which is why most people lean towards the familiar, the tried and true.  We often speak of “conquering” or “facing” our fears, recognizing that they are holding us back.  But confronting fears is a complex process.  It requires a mental shift backed by the courage to try new behaviors.

My niece is reading Shakespeare’s  A Midsummer Night’s Dream for a literature class and I have been reading along with her in order to enrich my own understanding and give her someone to explore themes with.  When it comes to human fears and vulnerabilities, Shakespeare had a different perspective.  He used “hobgoblins” to represent the fears that put constraints on us.  They are mischievous and annoying creatures that meddle, creating confusion, inciting fear and preying on weakness.  However, Shakespeare’s hobgoblins served a greater purpose than sowing discord; they were instrumental in setting things right.  In this way, our fears become the key to how we transform for the better.

Shakespeare recognized that most fears are distortions (hence hobgoblins were often half-man half animal creatures).  Reality is what we make it, and hobgoblins left to their own devices make us weak and stagnant.  When we are ruled by our fears we do not take risks, find unconventional solutions, engage our imagination, or reach beyond ourselves.  The magic of being human is the triumph over our limitations.  Fear can paralyze or it can mobilize.  Shakespeare liked to show how genuinely interacting with your hobgoblins could lead to wisdom and clarity.  In other words, by engaging the unfamiliar and acting in new and different ways, one befriends fear, the hobgoblins, and creates an opportunity for new perspectives and experiences.   Our fears are given a higher and productive purpose.

I like to tell my clients to think about their professional life as a laboratory where they are constantly experimenting with new behaviors.  As a leader, there is no other way to make defining and innovative changes without stepping out of one’s own comfort zone and trying unfamiliar and uncomfortable behaviors.  For example, an executive whose feedback states he tends to interrupt frequently will experiment with keeping silent despite his or her impulse to speak-up.  Or an executive who lacks empathy and gets frustrated quickly will experiment with trying to put himself in the shoes of others before he reacts with negative assumptions.  Or an executive who micromanages and has a difficult time letting go of control will experiment with imagining what would happen were she to disappear tomorrow: how would the work go on without her?

Beyond the personal development that comes from learning to utilize our hobgoblins for stretching past the comfortable, it also makes good business and leadership sense.  At a time when rapidly changing business landscapes are becoming the norm and “creative disruption” has become the trend, being nimble and brave are critical leadership traits.  Modern businesses are embracing chaos and are showing us that to succeed one must meet the disruption with flexibility, boldness and experimentation.  Meeting that call requires facing the hobgoblin and not running away.

As a coach, my work often involves helping an executive become comfortable with trying new behaviors in the process of growing their leadership.   Feeling awkward, unsure of oneself and risking failure or humiliation are all part of finding out what works.  Being an effective leader prepared to meet the unknown with confidence and conviction means always experimenting with both your behavior and your business perspective.

The point of a hobgoblin is that it wants a new experience.  It does not want to become a fixed fear that limits your growth, potential and life experience.  For that reason, hobgoblins are to be welcomed and seen as a source of motivation, both for you and your business.

Whether from feedback you have received or simply from your own personal insight, identify a behavior you would like to experiment with changing.  Follow the steps below as you accumulate data in your behavioral laboratory.

  1. Try the new behavior as opposed to just thinking about it.
  2. Write down on a scale of 1 -10 how effective it was. Did it work?
  3. How did it feel to you on an internal level? Was it awkward?
  4. If you were to do it again, what would you do differently?
  5. What did you learn?
  6. Where else might this new behavior work or not work?
  7. Repeat

Once you’ve become comfortable with the process above, you can apply it to business strategy experimentation.

  1. Try a new product, service, or strategy.
  2. Write down how effective it was on a scale of 1 – 10. You must decide how much time you are going to give it before you ask this question.  It could be 90 days, shorter or longer.
  3. Was the product, service, or strategy true to the team’s vision of the business in the marketplace? Was it within its bounds?  Out of bounds?  Not a good fit?  Is it potentially pointing out what the business could or should become in the future marketplace?
  4. If you were to do it again, what would you do differently?
  5. What did your team learn?
  6. How else might this new product, service or strategy be deployed? Could it potentially work in adjacent spaces?
  7. Repeat


The more practiced you become in engaging your hobgoblins in a dynamic and creative way the more you will become comfortable with the flexibility and experimentation required in this current culture of creative disruption.  Our fears are meant to reach out into the unknown and in turn guide our personal and business decisions out of the mundane and into the innovative.




To speak with Nora about some of the hobgoblins in your own life or business, contact her today for a complimentary consult.