Leadership: Overcoming Fear
In his first inaugural speech, Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a nation mired in the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. The economic outlook was more than bleak. Anyone who has seen the old movie or read Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath has some idea of the feeling of desperation that must have permeated the country. Our “Great Recession” seems far less formidable. FDR is a leader that did not adopt a “ride it out” or “hope for the best” position. He lead with vision and decisiveness. He identified and called out the main enemy of the crisis and met him in a rallying motivational speech to a paralyzed, troubled nation. He joined with his people in creating and executing solutions.
This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. FDR, March 4, 1933. (View entire speech at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MX_v0zxM23Q)
To be a leader you must have a clear and solemn understanding of your own fears and how others react to their own fears. Leadership is walking toward fearful obsticles and overcoming them with a plan of action that is both courageous and thoughtful. A true leader then motivates people to do what they never believed they could do.
What keeps a leader from leading is fear itself. She fears failing, being laughed at, hurt, ignored or marginalized. His fear is an insurmountable barrier to creativity. Fear will stop her from developing fantastic ideas let alone bringing them to the board room or manager’s meeting. Fear of rejection will prevent him from seeing things as they are, speaking her mind, or attempting the daring or weird solution necessary.
This is the day you can make a difference. Look at one problem, project or idea that is in front of you. Big or small, embedded in that project are a number of mind numbing, action killing fears. Find them and write them down.
Writing down your fears is first step to overcoming them. If you write down your fear you own it, it doesn’t own you.
Understand that this fear is in you. It is not external. The situation is not fear. The fear is your self preserving “lizard brain” (see Seth Godin in Linchpin) that stops you from finding solutions to those objective, external challenges.
You will not die from trying something new. It will feel like you are sure to be seriously injured. Your self protective systems will try to shield you from pain of judgment and criticism. Fear will attempt to paralyze you. Fearing you won’t be heard, you won’t speak. Fearing you won’t win you won’t compete. Fearing you won’t succeed you will hold back from giving it everything you have.
If you do not conquer your fears, you will do one of two things. You will shrink back in line, do only what you are told and quit on your project (become a bureaucrat worthy of being ignored). Or you will become a tyrant, dominating your landscape through blaming, intimidation and manipulation inciting the fears of the people around you. Neither is leadership. Both are rooted in “fear itself.”
Leaders recognize and conquer their fears. They write down and own their fears. They see fear as a path to success and work on their fear then the problems that were inflated or masked by fear. They ignore their self protective over reactions. They face down fear and design solutions.
Once free from their own fears, leaders lead. They motivate a group of capable people to find, speak and work from their own fear conquered creativity. The group works together to improve plans, take risks and execute their collective genius. Not every project succeeds, but the leader does not despair. She learns and tries again because the only thing this kind of leader has to fear is success itself.