Leaders Acknowledge Their Fears and Move through Them
This past Wednesday night I attended a Jackson Browne concert at Wolf Trap Farm Park in Virginia. The lyrics of Browne’s song, “The Dreamer,” from his new album, “Downhill from Everywhere,” resonated with me:
“The walls we’ve built between us keep us prisoners of our fears.”
Browne was making a point about how we may not even recognize our own fears, but we are motivated by them. His lyrics remind us that we build our own walls that separate us from other people, walls that prevent us from growing into our own authentic selves.
These self-built prison walls allow us to remain in our comfort zones and to perpetuate our own often unseen biases and prejudices. Sometimes these biases affect our attitudes towards other groups of people and sometimes they affect our beliefs about the very people with whom we work.
The best leaders are not afraid to confront their own fears, whether those fears are coming from the outside – society – or have been built up from within – our own histories and evolution.
I know that when I was a young leader, my biggest fear was assuming the mantle of leadership and failing. In my mid-20s, I felt I didn’t deserve to be a leader. This fear did not dissipate over night. However, I decided to do the best I could and to rely on leadership mentors as I began my own career journey.
Later during my career, I feared failing in other ways. During my 32 years running the Continuing Legal Education department at Georgetown Law Center, I feared:
-letting my team down,
-that conferences we planned would not succeed, -dealing with the egos of famous speakers we recruited, -being “found out, like many leaders who are affected by “imposter syndrome”
In all these cases, I kept pushing forward anyway. I learned to look in the mirror and recognize my fears, sometimes rational and sometimes irrational. In acknowledging my fears, I talked about them with my “Board of Directors,” who I wrote about in an earlier edition of this newsletter: my wife, trusted peers, and sometimes even my direct reports.
So many leaders I have coached have not reached that inflection point where they are ready to face their fears. Reasons have varied:
-“It is too painful to confront my past”
-“It is too uncomfortable to revisit my failures”
-“It is too awkward to talk about it”
-“I want to look forward and not backward”
Sometimes we cannot truly confront those fears that are holding us back on our leadership journeys without psychotherapy or coaching. I know that I benefitted greatly from both these modalities.
As leaders we all can confront and acknowledge our fears, sometimes with courage by ourselves and other times with the help of trained professionals or trusted friends.
Only by doing so will we be able to successfully address them.
So as you continue your unique leadership journey, please don’t be blocked by your own fears.
They are a normal part of the journey. By recognizing them and addressing them, we actually will become stronger leaders!
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