Posts Tagged ‘fear’

Courageous Leadership

October 31, 2011 1 comment


People don’t follow titles, they follow courage. – William Wells Brown

How does it make you feel when you see someone demonstrate personal courage?

As for me, I get this odd feeling of respect and usually a strange desire to join them. Ever wonder why that is? I think it comes back to one word:


Let me explain. To have courage, you must first have fear (courage can’t exist without it). So here’s this person, in a fear-inducing situation, only they aren’t letting their fear run the show. Instead of abdicating to fear, they’re trusting their values and abilities to navigate whatever is going on. That intense trust in themselves is what draws us in.

We all have fears. Find someone who generates courage in the face of fear, and we’ll naturally gravitate toward him. Find someone who trusts she can get herself and everyone else through safely to the others side, and we’ll follow her.

Here are three things you can do in the face of fear to encourage yourself and those around you:

1. Stand Up. Take responsibility for your values and your people—not only will you sleep better at night, you’ll attract loyal followers as well.

2. Speak Up. You always have an opinion—whether you realize it or not. Know what yours is—and be ready to share it.

3. Step Up. Words and positioning are a good start, but in the end, action is what communicates your real commitment, and thus, your true courage.

I’m going to choose to be a courageous leader today. I challenge you to do the same.

Where do you need to stand up, speak up, or step up?

3 Things You Need to Burn

October 11, 2011 5 comments

controlled burn

Only YOU can prevent forest fires!

– Smokey the Bear

Despite Smokey the Bear‘s fear campaign, not all forest fires are bad.

Fire is actually an essential part of forest ecology. In addition to clearing out combustible trees, brush and leaves, it stimulates the germination of new trees. In fact, cones from sequoia trees require the heat from fire to open and disperse seeds.

But we spent much of the 20th century trying to stop all forest fires. We damaged ecosystems and created tinder boxes for huge, hot, destructive fires. We ended up killing many of our forests with our kindness. 

We do the same thing in our organizations, in our relationships, and in our lives. We label the fires of change, conflict and constraints as bad—and we avoid them at all costs.

Just as forestry experts now use controlled fires to burn off dangerous undergrowth, here are 3 things you need to burn if you want a healthy life, authentic relationships or a streamlined organization:

• Bad Habits. I never fall off the wagon—if it was that abrupt, I’d realize it was happening. For me, unhealthy living begins with an innocent snack here or there, a missed workout that’s “not a big deal”, staying up just a little later to finish a blog post. Burn the bad habits. Feel the pain of discipline and let it set you free.

• Bad Behaviors. Over time we tend to let more and more slide with those we are closest to. The biting sarcasm that’s gone too far. The lack of follow-up on commitments. The erosion of standards we both once held. What behaviors are you overlooking in your spouse, friends, coworkers, or clients? Set those decaying behaviors ablaze and start over fresh.

• Bad Commitments. Every organization I’ve ever been a part of has suffered from mission creep. It doesn’t matter if you’re part of a Fortune 100 company or a local community board, the temptation—especially after success—to add initiatives that don’t align with your core mission is inescapable. Sear away the distractions and cling to your guiding purpose.

Bad habits, bad behaviors and bad commitments accumulate slowly and inconspicuously—like fallen tree limbs and dead leaves. Soon, not only is new growth stunted—in your organization, in your relationships, in yourself—but you’ve got a layer of dead things that are ready to erupt at any moment.

So don’t be afraid of fire. Use it wisely; use it often.

What else would you add to this list? What will you burn today?

Achieving Escape Velocity

August 2, 2011 5 comments


grav·i·ty (ˈgravitē) n. The natural force that attracts a body toward the center of any physical body having mass.

Years ago, while traveling in Australia, a SCUBA trip I had planned fell through, so on a whim I found a skydiving school and asked if I could skydive that day.

The bloke across the counter picked up a ball-point pen, held it 18 inches over the sign-in sheet, and let go. As soon as the pen hit the paper he looked up.

“Yup,” he said, “Gravity’s working today.”

The earth’s gravitational pull is so ubiquitous that we hardly even notice it. We don’t think twice about the force that keeps us planted where we are, prevents the air we’re breathing from floating away, and even slings the moon around every month.

So what’s this have to do with leadership?

The earth isn’t the only thing that pulls on you. There are many things that tug on you and those you’re leading. Here are a few things that have a subtle and powerful gravity all their own:

  • The Status Quo. You’ve felt this force before. Whenever you attempt even the slightest change, you are immediately met with a resistance—a gentle tug drawing you back to the way things used to be, the things you know, the way it’s always been before.
  • The Ordinary. Ordinary is easy. It’s where people are nice and performance is fine. Most people mull around here, where their best hope is for a brush with something more. Some emerge for a moment, only to be pulled back down. It’s tough to maintain the extraordinary.
  • Your Self. The gravity of your self is the most faint and ferocious of all. At best, it appears as your need to protect and justify yourself or to be respected. At worst it can collapse into a black hole of addiction that brings everyone around you down as well.

In order to slip the clutches of the earth’s gravity, rockets must reach what’s called escape velocity—the speed at which a projectile will no longer fall back to earth or settle into a closed orbit. Escape velocity is the speed of freedom.

People don’t stumble into outer space. In the same way, people don’t accidentally escape the gravity of the status quo, the ordinary, or themselves. It takes planning, purpose, and courage to break free from the way things have always been, to achieve something truly extraordinary, or to lose yourself in service to others.

That’s where you come in. Your job as a leader is to help people achieve their escape velocity.

What’s pulling you down? How will you achieve escape velocity?

3 Tips for Displacing False Beliefs

June 13, 2011 10 comments

Leadership Leading

There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them. – Anthony de Mello

We talked a lot last month about the power of belief and how to build belief. But what happens when you believe something that isn’t true?

It’s devastating.

In fact, the thing that holds us back the most isn’t external resistance, scarcity of resources, or even lack of capability. What holds us back most are our own false beliefs about ourselves, each other, and the world around us.

Behind every bit of reluctance, every hint of futility, every bad habit, is a lie that we’ve let creep in and grow into a belief—something we cling to as if it were true. False beliefs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are small (I’m no good at talking to strangers), some are huge (No one could ever love me), others are personal (I don’t have what it takes to lead others), many are professional (People at work don’t care how I’m feeling).

The first step in dislodging these subtle self-saboteurs is to call them what they are: Lies. At some point someone told you, “you’ll never be any good at math” or “don’t use your hands when you speak” or “that’s how we always do it around here” and you believed them. It probably wasn’t a conscious choice, but it happened. Now you’re living out those beliefs and dealing with the consequences.

The next thing to realize is that you can’t just stop believing something. You can’t delete false beliefs, they must be replaced. Here’s a process I’ve used to do just that:

1. Reflect on your own experiences. Look at the decisions you make—what factors are driving them? Dig into your fears—where do they come from? Identify the assumptions you’re living by—and challenge their validity. Write down the lies you think you believe. This is a difficult, but liberating, action. It’s humiliating to confess on paper some of the stuff we’ve bought into, but the moment we do, those false beliefs lose half their power.

2. Feed yourself truth. Experiment. Read. Listen. Learn. Question. Debate. Wrestle. Journal. Write the truths down that will counter the false beliefs you recorded earlier. The idea is that you’ll have them at the ready should you be tempted to go back to those familiar lies again. What I’ve found, however, is that writing down the counter-truths diminishes the power of false beliefs all the more.

3. Surround yourself with good friends. I define a good friend as someone who both cares about you and will tell you the truth. You can find plenty of people who fulfill one of those requirements, but finding someone that’s committed to you and to telling you the truth is a rare and beautiful gift. Listen to them. Trust them.

How else have you seen false beliefs displaced?

The Power of Perspective

June 6, 2011 6 comments

leading perspectiveAt 6:35am on June 6, 1944 the first Allied soldiers stepped ashore at Omaha Beach. They were instantly showered with enemy fire raining down on them from fortified positions carved into the bluffs above. The hail of machine gun and artillery fire would continue unabated for hours as wave after wave of ships bottled up by underwater obstacles poured soldiers into the kill zone.

Among those first soldiers were elements of the 16th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel George Taylor. When Taylor arrived on the beach around 8:00am, he found remnants of his battle-hardened regiment in total confusion. With most of their leaders killed or incapacitated, those who had survived the first two hours were pinned down by the relentless enemy fire.

The invasion of Europe had stalled just seven yards in.

Seeing thousands of leaderless soldiers hunkering down behind the seawall or whatever cover they could find, Taylor realized this was a tipping point. Exposing himself to the deadly fire, he moved up and down the line finding officers, gathering teams together, and assigning new objectives. But what do you say to a man to make him face that kind of mortal danger?

Colonel Taylor simply put things in perspective:

There are only two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here!

Under Taylor’s leadership, the 16th Infantry advanced over 200 yards inland, neutralized the German strongpoints, repelled counter-attacks and were instrumental in consolidating the Allied beachhead on Omaha.

Leveraging your Fear as a Leader

March 7, 2011 23 comments

LeadershipFear definitely gets a bad rap.

Andrew Jackson told us never to take counsel of our fears. FDR told us that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. Heck, there’s an entire line of clothing called: No Fear. Certainly Fear wreaks havoc in our lives, but that’s not Fear’s fault. It’s only when we mismanage Fear that everything starts to unravel.

Fear is a great adviser. All my life it has done a terrific job of alerting me, warning me, and keeping me safe. The problems only begin when I abdicate to Fear and let it start calling the shots. Turns out, Fear isn’t a very good monarch—despite its impassioned pleas to the contrary. Like a child, it always thinks it knows best. It’s constantly trying to seize control. But giving in to Fear makes as much sense as letting an ill-trained, near-sighted (and often paranoid) child drive my car while I watch from the backseat.

Put Fear in its Place. Instead of giving in to Fear—or wasting time and energy trying to deny or eradicate a perfectly healthy emotion, I’ve found it helpful to deal with Fear directly. Here are four ways to use Fear to your benefit:

1. Protect What you Love. This is the most instinctual function of Fear. When you feel fear, you’re facing a threat to your safety or the well-being of someone or something you care about. Listen to the fear without giving in to it. Try to identify what’s causing it, then assess the threat: Is it real or perceived? Is it rational or irrational? Is it imminent? How severe is it? How probable is it? After assessing the threat, develop a plan and respond appropriately.

2. Humble Yourself. Beyond the fight or flight response to protecting what you love, fear also illuminates people and things that deserve our respect. Whether it’s a raging river, a hot stove, or an untested new market, fear shows us our limits and tempers our vain imaginations. When you sense fear, odds are you’re in the presence of something bigger than yourself. Take a sober look at yourself and your situation before proceeding.

3. Find your Calling. Fear helps you protect yourself and humble yourself, but it can also lead you into worthwhile adventures. We all have different fears. Some are reasonable (e.g. sleeping on railroad tracks); some aren’t (e.g. speaking in public). Intentionally steering your life toward your unreasonable fears is a sure-fire way to discover who you truly are and what you’re really capable of. This is true of organizations and individuals alike.

4. Cultivate Courage. The greatest gift that fear gives us is the opportunity to be brave. Without fear there can be no courage. My son was an early walker, running and climbing by his first birthday. He was fearless on the playground—until the day he fell off a three-foot-high cement whale. He learned fear that day. It took weeks for him to regain his confidence, but now that he knows the risk, his confidence is different. He is no longer fearless; he is courageous.

How you deal with fear is one of the most important things you do as a leader. Don’t fumble around with it, use it as a lever to become a better leader.

How has fear made you a better leader?

Driven or Drawn?

March 4, 2011 3 comments


There are two levers for moving men: interest and fear.

– Napoleon Bonaparte

I strongly believe that one of the best ways to learn about people—and how to influence them—is to observe the person you are closest to: You.

How are you motivated? Note that what motivates you is less important than how you’re motivated. What motivates you is, after all, unique to you. But how your motives move you—or fail to move you—is generally common to us all.

Take positive and negative motivation, for example:

Are you driven…

  • Is something forcing you forward?
  • Do you feel chased toward your goal?
  • Is a certain fear licking at your heels?
  • Is anxiety compelling you to act?

…or drawn?

  • Is something pulling you forward?
  • Do you feel a happy tug toward your goal?
  • Are you captivated by some passion?
  • Is hope inspiring you to act?

The answer is probably both. But in this case, the answer isn’t as important as the question. Or the necessary follow up: How are you leading others—are you driving them or drawing them?

What are the pros and cons of driving/drawing people? When is each appropriate?