How To Prevent Fear From Stealing Your Leadership Mojo

Did you know we are born with only two fears? The fear of falling and loud noises. Everything else is developed through our experiences.

So, fear is an intrinsic part of our human make-up. And it sure does drive a WHOLE lotta behaviour.

What does this mean if you are a leader?

At its worst, fear leaves us paralysed. Over-cautious. Reluctant to take the risks necessary for growth – both our own and the organisations we lead.

At its best, when in its rightful place, fear allows us to make conscious decisions. It can be the voice of reason, safety and practicality.

But based on what I have seen, fear (mostly) cripples.

Fear of failure.

Fear of not being successful.

Fear of being exposed or looking stupid.

Fear of loss.

Fear of a ‘bad’ outcome.

Sadly, the graveyard of lost dreams is littered with lives not lived to their fullest potential. The “almost made it” business ideas, the organisations full of disengaged and fearful employees, the unhappy executives in jobs that are slowly killing their souls. All because fear was the main guest at the party.

The irony is…

[Tweet “Fear is founded on a future that only exists in our minds.”] 

Fear makes us think that something disastrous is going to happen, when the truth is, we just can’t predict the future.

To add to this sorry state, many leaders feel pressured to demonstrate constant fearlessness. Most organisational cultures discourage managers acknowledging, let alone exposing or discussing their fears.

The world needs leaders who are more aware of their fears. Leaders who have a healthy, positive relationship with their fears. Leaders who can talk about fears openly and yet who still decide to take that leap of faith, despite them.

Organisations need leaders who are more willing to be courageous. 

Who stare fear directly in the eye and say, “thanks for coming, but not today.”

Here are 6 ways to prevent fear from stealing your leadership mojo:

1. Recognise it in yourself (and others for that matter). Notice when you feel anxious, worried, fearful or just plain scared. Our bodies are great litmus tests – where do you feel it in your body? In your chest? In your churning stomach? It’s difficult to manage your fears if they are hidden and unconscious.

2. Notice your self-talk surrounding your fears. Ask yourself, “what am I thinking?” It’s usually the million miles an hour ‘voice of doom’.

3. Employ positive responses. Tonya, Jackman and Hampton in their study, Know Fear: How Leaders Respond and Relate to Their Fears, outlined the following positive fear strategies: (a) motivating self; (b) engaging and interacting (typically referred to as coping); (c) sharing with others; (d) dreaming (my personal favourite) and; (e) planning and executing.

4. Follow through with your doomsday voice for a moment. Go to the worst possible scenario and imagine how you would handle that outcome. Ask, just how bad would this really be? Could I survive this outcome?  This involves asking “so what?” again and again. Who else has experienced this and come out on top?

5. Challenge your ‘voice of doom’. Says who?! Are you sure about that? What advice would you give a friend or respected colleague in this situation?

6. Grow a set. Life’s too short. As H Jackson Brown said, “Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.”

Will you get hurt if you act in spite of fear? Probably. Will you fall flat on your face? Yep, at least several times. But it’s better than letting fear hold you back from growing, learning and becoming the leader you’re designed to become.

Is fear holding you back from achieving your dreams?

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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