The Role of Fear in Leadership.

Fear can be crippling, but eliminating it would be the equivalent of feeling that your 10 feet tall, bullet proof and invisible. Certainly not a healthy place for any leader to be.

I’ve talked on my YouTube Channel quite a bit about the fears I’ve had to overcome during my career, which has been one continuous leadership journey, for sure.

My intent here is to help others have a better understanding of what fear is versus what it’s not, and that being fearless doesn’t mean eliminating fear. It means knowing how to leverage that fear.  To do that, you need to know a few things about what you are dealing with. 

  1. Fear is Healthy. It’s hardwired in your brain, and for good reason: Neuroscientists have identified distinct networks that run from the depths of the limbic system all the way to the prefrontal cortex and back. When these networks are electrically or chemically stimulated, they produce fear, even in the absence of a fearful stimulus. Feeling fear is neither abnormal nor a sign of weakness. To be afraid is part of our normal brain function. 
  2. Fear comes in many shades. It’s an inherently unpleasant experience that can range from mild to paralyzing. Horrifying events can leave a permanent mark on our brain circuitry, which, in some cases, requires professional help. However, chronic stress, anxiety, constant worry, and daily insecurity, can quietly and seriously harm us over time.  
  3. Fear isn’t as automatic as you think. It’s part instinct, part learned, part taught. The instinctual part is about survival. The learned part is about people, places, situations that have caused negative associations and experiences. The taught part is about cultural norms that determine whether something should be feared, such as certain social groups being feared and persecuted because of the impression they’re dangerous.
  4. You don’t have to be in danger to be in fear. It’s also partly imagined, and can arise in the absence of something scary. We get scared because of what we imagine could happen. Some neuroscientists claim that humans are the most fearful creatures on the planet because of our ability to learn, think, and create fear in our minds.
  5. Things seem scarier the more fearful you are. When you’re primed for fear, even harmless events seem scary. For example, if you’re afraid of flying, even the slightest turbulence will push your spike your blood pressure. The more worried you are about your job security, the more you’ll sweat it when your boss calls you in for even the most benign meeting.
  6. Fear dictates the actions you take. Actions motivated by fear fall into four types—freeze, fight, flight, or fright. Freeze means you stop what you’re doing and focus on the cause rather than on what you should be doing in response. Fight or flight means you decide whether to deal with the threat directly or work around or away from it. When the fear is overwhelming, you experience fright, and do nothing but obsess about the cause.
  7. The more real the threat, the more heroic your actions can be. We all react differently to real and imagined threats. Real threats cause frenzy. When the threat is imminent and identifiable, you jump to action immediately without flinching. It’s why, for example, people are much more likely to change their eating habits after a serious health scare. 

One of the realities of leadership is that to mobilize, motivate and inspire those looking to you for the path forward, you have to put yourself in danger in order to make things happen. It’s called taking a risk. In such cases, fear can be as much an ally, as it can be an enemy. 

Weekly Leadership Insight

Making things happen has a lot to do with overcoming your fears. Our ability to do so will help determine our level of Personal Leadership Effectiveness.

Action Step:
Study fear in order to understand it more intimately. In doing so, you’ll be more willing to confront it because you’re equipped yourself for the process.

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