Fear is our greatest impediment to effective leadership. From my work as a facilitator, coach, and consultant, I would wager that we have all been paralyzed, or at least slowed by fear at some point.
Operating from fear, our capacity for reason, compassion, and long-term effectiveness erodes. Our actions are usually sub-optimal if not downright destructive. Only a casual glance at any day’s news will reveal this reality on the national and global stage.
I’ve experienced fear holding me back in my own work and have met a surprising number of otherwise high-functioning adults who allow fear to hold them, hostage, as well. So many times I’ve felt something off in groups in which I have either participated or led, but doubting (a subtle form of fear) my instincts or skill to act, I withdrew. I’ve discovered that in those cases where I found the courage to act on inner promptings, the group advanced or at least I was unstuck so as not to hold the group back.
What is fear? Fear is information in the form of an emotional response that empowers us to act when our lives are in danger. In the modern world, our physical lives are rarely in danger. However, today our identities are so tied up with our self-image that when this mental construct is threatened, it can feel like our very lives are at risk.
I believe that so many of us are walking around in a near constant state of fear due to a diminished self-image. By fear, I mean a level of emotional unease that lies somewhere on a spectrum spanning doubt-worry-anxiety-panic. I view fear arising from threats to our self-image as a misuse of imagination.
When fear of imagined consequences is greater than the fear of the status quo, we stay stuck. Hence too many of us numb ourselves into tolerating business as usual, limiting ourselves, others, our teams, and our organizations. Perhaps this is well expressed by this acronym commonly ascribed to fear: False Evidence Appearing Real (FEAR).
When we let thoughts about our self-image impact our actions indicated by our innate instincts and intelligence, an already questionable self-image is diminished. Action based on an image from the past to take actions in the present will always produce marginal results or worse and have us feeling lost. After all, this is like driving a car while looking in the rear view mirror!
Too often when we live from a fear, we label our negative fantasies reality and ourselves as realistic when we believe them. I say bull-pucky to this! You can just as well engage in positive fantasies, also known as vision. Actions based on vision and values will yield results in time that reflect them. This kind of action is called courage.
The mind is a great tool if we use it to set live visions and possibilities for the future. One of my past teachers used to say, Why not win in your own fantasy? Our negative fantasies tend to paralyze us, positive ones pull us Forward. If we are to fear what could go wrong if we take a certain action, we owe it to ourselves to also consider what could go incredibly right. For me, an alternative formulation of the FEAR acronym inspires courage…
FEAR: Face & Embrace All Resistance. By facing resistance, I don’t mean banging your head repeatedly against a closed door. I mean fully acknowledging and feeling any resistance that arises in the form of doubt, worry, anxiety, or panic. When you do, it is free to move through you. Resisting or denying fear actually keeps you stuck and grants it power over you. For as the old saying goes: What you resist persists.
Often we remain stuck by resisting the simplest of tasks. You know that nagging little voice telling you to do that little thing …clean up your messy desk, make that call you keep avoiding, say what’s on your mind in your group, you know what I mean. I’ve learned that these gentle inner promptings to do things are incredibly valuable. And the fact that they are coming to me now is very important. It means that they want to be done now! When I organize my desk now because I’m prompted to, my current work roadblock seems to fall. When I make that phone call now when I’m prompted to, the person I’m trying to connect with answers and it seems to be the perfect time to address the issue at hand. When I eliminate delay and obediently follow my inner leader, my life goes so much smoother than when I resist.