Fear is the last emotion most leaders will admit to experiencing. The “never let them see you sweat” pressure, whether external or self-inflicted, keeps many people from facing their real fears.

Leaders do need to be careful about how and to whom they communicate their fears. Employees look to leaders to maintain courage, perspective and vision in the midst of adversity. Burying fear completely, however, is dangerous. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” However, we should be even more wary of unacknowledged fear, since it may cause leaders to be paralyzed or make irrational decisions.

What can you do to avoid the pitfalls of unacknowledged fear?

Name what scares you. It may take a while to get there, but figure out what you’re afraid of.  Think about frightening scenarios, like blowing a presentation to key client or missing a deadline for a key assignment. If you find yourself thinking, “Oh, that wouldn’t be so bad,” you may be shoving that fear into a compartment, in order to avoid it. Keeping it in a compartment doesn’t make it go away. You still will react emotionally if that fear is triggered, so you may as well name it, so can deal with your response productively.

Be OK with being human. Some leaders are afraid of introspection itself, because they are afraid to recognize their faults and foibles. They fear self-awareness, because they may not like everything they see. Particularly stoic leaders resist the notion that they fear anything at all. Remember, everybody’s scared of something, and you don’t have to broadcast your fears to the world. In fact, you don’t have to tell anyone, if you don’t want to.

Focus on what you can control, influence or manage for. Acknowledge that there are some situations you simply must accept, because you can’t do much about them. The economy, weather and other people’s behavior are not within your power to change. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of other scary stuff out there that you can impact, so don’t spend time sweating about what you can’t.

Move through fear. Dr. Rick Kranzley, Senior Partner with the O’Brien Group, wrote on their blog: “Wise leaders acknowledge that fear is just a normal emotional reaction – and then move through it.” They trust themselves and others to perform wisely, even in the face of daunting circumstances. Take steps forward, even if they seem miniscule. Slow and steady progress through dangerous waters builds confidence.

Imagine the worst. When you’re nervous about something, it often helps to imagine the absolute worst possible outcome.Rather than experiencing anxiety, you label the stakes, recognize that even disastrous results aren’t fatal and then prepare to deal with the fallout. Worst outcome: If I am not prepared for the meeting, I will lose credibility.  What to do: If I can’t be fully prepared, I will have a plan in place to get people the information they need right after the meeting.

Recognizing and overcoming your fears unlocks potential and can be incredibly satisfying. “He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not uncovered the secret of life” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).


Want to be the best leader you can be? Humanergy can help you conquer your fears and achieve your goals. Contact us.

Photo purchased at istockphoto.com