10 Ways Leaders Can Overcome Fear

Let's face it. Fear is real. Perhaps you've felt it rise up in you with questions like,

  • Will I disappoint my boss?

  • Will I lose my job?

  • Am I doing a good job?

  • What if I make a mistake, and I lose people's trust?

  • What if people realize I don't really know all the answers and think I'm a fraud?

  • What if this isn't really my calling, and I fail?

  • What if I disappoint God?


If you have asked yourself these questions, then congratulations, you're normal.

Believe it or not, the presence of fear (even as a leader) in your workplace does not mean your workplace is unhealthy or that you or those leading you are somehow flawed. Fear is common to all mankind.  The good news is, with these 10 insights to managing fear, you can overcome fear and help those you lead overcome it as well.

1. Recognize the Purpose of Fear

I read an article recently that said "Fear serves no purpose."  And while I understand the author's point, as a Christian, I believe that fear does indeed have a purpose; a purpose manipulatively designed by the devil himself.  Simply put, we must recognize the purpose of fear is to distract us from the work God has created us to do.

2. How You Respond to Fear Matters

There are some pretty common responses we all have to fear, responses that are deeply ingrained in our genetic makeup.  They are responses that tell us to tuck our tails and run or to stand our ground and fight, regardless of who goes down in the process. Being aware of our fear and how we personally respond to it will help us combat its effect and power over us. It is not the presence of fear, but our response to fear (both as leaders and as individuals) that matters.

3. Be Aware of the Lizard Brain Response

Seth Godin refers to our inherent desire to run away from fear as our "lizard brain," a word phrase I love because it totally communicates the primal nature of this response.  Perhaps you know this better as "fight or flight" but I think Seth is dead on with his description. And in truth, it reminds me to laugh at myself sometimes when I respond to fear in this way. Be aware of when you're in your lizard brain.

4. Release Your Stress

Fear creates stress, and stress makes us selfish, self-righteous, judgmental, and paranoid.  And trust me, no one wants to be friends with THAT version of you. The more stressed you feel, the more you give into the effects of fear.  It's a vicious cycle. When you feel stressed out, find a release for your stress.  Take a walk, take a break, read a book . . . you know what works for you.

5. Don't Go Viral

Fear creates in us a viral response. I'm not talking social media viral response here folks, I mean a good ole' life-sucking virus.  Fear creates in us an actual physical response. It begins with a knot in our stomachs, a heaviness in our chest, a weight on our shoulders, and spreads, well . . .  like a virus, causing us to isolate ourselves lest others notice we are worried, withdrawn or worse yet, silently and passively angry.

6. There *IS* a Healthy Approach to Fear

As I said earlier, fear is real and it exists in the healthiest of environments.  Understanding your response to fear is important, but it's equally important to approach fear in a healthy way.  Ignoring it won't make it go away.  Freaking out doesn't get you anywhere.  Approaching fear with a healthy and godly mindset is not only possible, it's necessary.

7. Acknowledge it

In his book, Practicing Greatness, author and renowned leader, Reggie McNeal says, "The single most important piece of information a leader possesses is self-awareness.  Great leaders are self-aware." This is especially true when it comes to fear.  Recognizing that your thoughts and questions are rooted in fear is so important to how you respond to those thoughts. Simply acknowledging that fear is present can allow you to respond to it in a healthy way, making clear-headed (vs. boneheaded) decisions.

8. Expose it

I like to remind myself that when it comes to anything that is rooted in evil, darkness and silence are constant companions.  If fear's purpose is to keep us from living out God's purpose for us in our lives, then it makes sense that it would want us to be silent about what we fear.  Finding a trusted advisor or friend to talk with about your fears is so important to exposing them to the light.  Being open about your fears and responding to them in a healthy way brings freedom.  

9. Speak truth over it

It is important for us to take a healthy look at our fear; acknowledge its presence and adjust accordingly, reduce its power over us by talking about what we fear, and then call it what it is, a lie.  The best way to overcome any tool of the enemy is to speak truth.  When you sense fear speaking to you, speak truth.  (IE: "People are not going to lose trust in me.  That's fear talking.  God has called me to this work." etc.)  Yeah, I know, it's basic, but we so often overlook the power of simply speaking truth.

10. A Word About Fear-Driven Environments

And lastly, I would be completely remiss if I didn't address the fact that real, fear-driven environments do exist.   Fear-driven environments are often that way because the leader lacks the ability to lead effectively and can control the organization with those tactics. If you are in an organization that is fear-driven and cannot effectively change the culture, you have to decide whether your calling is there or if you need to break free.

Great leadership requires a constant willingness to be transformed into the person we were created to be. By being aware of the source of fear and how it affects our perspective, we can use these insights to overcome fear and joyfully live out our purpose and our calling.

Alli Worthington

Alli Worthington is the COO for Propel Women and helps people be more successful in business and life.

Gifted with a knack for identifying trends early on, a voracious reader and self-taught businesswoman, Alli’s influence extends from Fortune 500 companies to international humanitarian organizations to small business owners and entrepreneurs. Her dynamic style and expertise in productivity, marketing, branding and digital strategy make her sought after counsel. And her insights on balancing motherhood, career and marriage have led to appearances on Good Morning America and The Today Show multiple times.

Alli lives outside Nashville, TN with her husband, Mark, their five sons, and their rescued dog. Most flat surfaces in their home have one or more of the following on them: books, sports equipment, legos and, quite possibly, a little dog hair.

Connect with Alli on Twitter @Alli, Facebook and Website.


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