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Every leader hopes their decisions and demeanor will inspire trust in those around them. Every leader also experiences fear. We fear different things and manage that fear in different ways. These fears hinder us from making the shift to being a more authentic and transparent leader. Fear may also be tough to nail down. Often, what we believe we’re afraid of is only a symptom of something deeper. So, let’s dig in…

Fear of being judged

We have ideas and hesitate to share them, because we fear how we will be perceived and how those ideas will be received. We worry that we will be defined by one idea, relegated to a single perspective. Have you ever shared an idea that was met with surprise from others who “couldn’t believe” you would think that or say that? Remember what that felt like, to be pushed back into a box of someone else’s expectations? Those experiences stay with us, so we make choices based on a past experience we barely remember.

As leaders, we often fail to share our own struggles, because we worry what might happen when those who follow us Learn The Truth. Often, this isn’t even a conscious thought process. We simply fall into the habit of holding back.

Fear of being found out

There’s a darker side to fear we rarely talk about. The fear of being judged and found better than we believe we are perceived. What happens then? Expectations rise, margin for error shrinks and people begin to truly Depend On Us. That feeling is often more terrifying than any judgement that finds us lacking.

Fear of being valued

This isn’t about a fear of someone appreciating you. This is the fear of someone else defining you, limiting your worth by assigning your value. When we allow others’ impressions or perceptions of us to define our value, we become trapped in their expectations, limited by their capacity to recognize our worth.

That’s not the fault of other people. None of us have an infinite capacity to understand. Even when we do our level best to give everyone love, acceptance and understanding, we still form opinions … or at least impressions of people. When those folks operate outside of those impressions, it’s sometimes shocking. And that’s okay. For us, the goal is to appreciate people being who they are. While working toward not allowing others’ responses to determine our personal limits.

Getting past the fear

The first step in conquering fear is to choose to accept your inherent value. Even though you may not always be “right” and your ideas may not always be “perfect,” you have value, and you carry that value with you. Whether you choose to invest that value is your choice, and when you do, the response from others does not lessen that value.

The reason this step is so important, is that you cannot give what you do not have. If you do not choose to embrace your value, you are choosing to put limits on what you offer others.

Many people live with the fear that they are “going to fail” or that they are “this close to being fired.” These fears linger even when everyone around them is pleased with their work and thankful for the value they add to the team. This scenario is both a failure of leadership and a failure of limitations. It’s a failure of leadership, because the leader is not connecting well enough with the person to communicate how much they value them. It’s a limiting belief, because the person in question is putting a cap on their capacity to add value, for themselves and others.

Curiosity is a powerful weapon to defeat fear

Wanting to know more, see more or experience more is as much about mindset as it is about the enrichment received from that activity or interaction.

Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.” — James Stephens, Irish novelist

At its core, curiosity is about learning truth rather than assuming truth, seeking new information rather than letting the past define us. Curiosity understands there is value even when others may not yet see that value, and curiosity asks questions when it feels easier to make assumptions.  

What are some ways to shift your thinking to encourage questions rather than assumptions? Or to be more intentional about investing your value, free of perceived limits?

Next time, we will talk more about the relationship between truth and value in leadership.

1 Comment

  1. Crystal D. Smith

    What a great article! Everyone is guilty of letting fear dictate our thought process every now and again, even the best of leaders. I love the idea of leveraging curiosity and knowledge as a method to NOT get in your own way as many of us can tend to make assumptions from time-to-time. Always enjoyable to read your pieces.

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