At Work

The Value of Leadership Fears

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People say some curious things about fear:

  • “FEAR stands for ‘False Expectations Appearing Real.’”
  • “Pain is the feeling of fear and weakness leaving your body.”

It strikes me that we have a lot of self-talk and dialogue about fear, but that only takes us to the brink of experience.

It’s helpful to imagine yourself working past fear in a situation. It’s helpful to pre-decide how you will act in a situation, or what you will say.

Thinking about these things is good, but still insufficient.

You still have to get into the experience, and work through it, and come out the other side.

Sometimes that experience looks like a swamp of muck and mire. Sometimes it looks like a river of lava. It never looks like a grassy oasis in the middle of the shimmering heat of desert sands.

We love to tell the stories of other people who went through the experience and came out the other side. We love to share our own stories on successful fire walks in the past.

We still don’t love doing it again.

All Leaders Face Fears

Some years back my friend Ed was dying from inoperable brain cancer. He told me that all the tough experiences in his life were good preparation for his final adventure. He wanted his kids and his grandkids to see him die well.

At the end of this short monologue, he suddenly grabbed my hand, surprising me with his strong grip as he whispered, “Pray for me.”

All leaders face fears and suffer trials. There is a grander purpose at work. Remember this truth.

James 1:2-4 says,

Count it all joy my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

As James tells us, there is another way to think about our fears, rather than let them overwhelm us.

Letting Fear Strengthen Us

We can compare one fear against another and let that help us do the right thing, the bold thing, the honorable and good and amazing thing.

Here are some fears I wrote in my journal last year at a particularly low point:

  • Fear of insignificance.
  • Fear of no legacy that survives me.
  • Fear of failing to provide for my family.
  • Fear of God’s righteous judgment against sin.
  • Fear of nearing death and regretting that I didn’t ________.
  • Fear of dying with unpublished manuscripts.
  • Fear of having my beautiful wife and children hate me or fear me.
  • Fear of being thought a fool, unworthy of being heard.
  • Fear of being alone, joyless, purposeless.
  • Fear of anger being my continuous impulse.
  • Fear of all my secrets being found out, of shame.
  • Fear of being a Cassandra, and no one will take my advice.
  • Fear of fitting in so perfectly I’m invisible.
  • Fear of standing out so far that no understands me or wants to know me.
  • Fear of losing my physical strength and abilities to see, hear, walk, talk, write.

I like having these fears because when they are strong enough, I’m compelled to take actions and risks, to produce and deliver, engage with others, love, and battle for joy in living.

Maybe you should write your list of fears?

One more story about my friend Ed – as his cancer progressed he began to lose his ability to speak, and he became limited to a few words and phrases. He would say “Thank you.”  “Please.”  “I love you.”

Some doctors have observed that we retain the most used phrases in our vocabulary the longest. Let’s commit to saying these phrases so often and so well that they become our only and last words.

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  • Ross

    Amazing that this is the first comment. Perhaps you’ve rendered everyone speachless. I like to think that pain is fear leaving the body. That makes me more likely to accept it. Thanks, as always, for the great advise and wisdom.

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