The Fearful or Fearless Leader


"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" - a famous quote by Franklin D Roosevelt The leader's state of mind really does matter as it can affect the tone and culture of any organisation whether large or small. It starts with the CEO but also extends to other leaders.

Tough situations call for a fearless leader whether the position is the leader of a business, a department, a teacher, a mayor, a sports team, an organisation in the community, a charity and most importantly as a parent. What we have known as being normal doesn't seem to exist today. Mother Nature is throwing challenges at so many people and communities around the world. Businesses are faced with extreme situations. Parents are troubled by what to do to help their children and to keep them safe. If there was ever a time that tested all kinds of leaders, it is now.

In many countries around the world people are living in fear. Fear of the next earthquake, tornado, floods, volcano eruption, drought and other such events that are out of our control. When people feel out of control behaviours and actions vary from being compassionate to violent as we have seen in several countries including Greece and some of the Middle East. Closer to home in New Zealand we are continuing to battle the challenges of on-going earthquakes and a prolonged recession. Technically we are out of recession but many businesses are still struggling with the reticence of people willing to risk. For those people in the earthquake zones many are feeling very fragile and unless one has been through the on-going shocks and damage to lives and homes it is difficult to really understand how each person feels.

Where fear comes from

The experience of feeling fearful comes from the way someone thinks about something. What one person may fear is another's thrill. Years ago I used to teach skiing and the best days were taking people off the groomed piste into the powder snow. The French ski resorts of Val D'Isere and Tignes are a skier's dream. My favourite day trip was taking my clients up lifts and down slopes to reach the most stunning off piste skiing. To get to this point a long traverse was needed from the top of the final lift. It has to be done early in the day because of the danger of avalanche. If someone fell they would have a long climb back up and yet no one ever fell with me.

I had to be the fearless leader of my team. I didn't take stupid risks and I was mindful of changes in the weather, which can happen so quickly in the mountains. Of course my clients were capable skiers but they didn't have to be experts. Because they felt safe and trusted me they were able to ski at their best.

After a wonderful ski we arrived at our destination in the little village of Le Fornet where we dined in a rustic restaurant enjoying delicious French country food with rough red wine and laughing about the day we had spent together. Then it was the trip home. This meant taking a series of lifts to get to the next valley which included a chair lift that not only went to the top of a peak, but down the other side. My clients didn't know that I had a fear of heights and the moment we went over the top my stomach churned. It was only my thinking that made me feel like that and I never let on because it was important that I was the fearless leader!

Operating from fear

"Imagination is more important than knowledge". This quote by Einstein is a reminder that current thinking won't solve the new problems. Leaders who operate from fear can self-destruct and also cause their people, and subsequently their companies, to suffer both economically and emotionally. Instead of collaborating with their managers they either go into hiding or lash out. Some people reading this may wonder what this is about. It is to help people to wake up and be aware of the fearful thoughts they have and what they are about. At times, like now, leaders need to step up and be fearless. It is not about doing something stupid. That is what fearful people do. It is an opportunity to gather teams together, to collaborate, to really listen to each other and to quieten the busy mind to allow insights to occur. It is time to slow down the mind to run faster.

My Father worked at one of the largest UK teaching hospitals so I was exposed to great doctors who didn't just treat the symptoms but more importantly looked at the cause. The similarity to business is to ask the question; Are we treating the symptoms or the cause? The only way change can occur is if people change. So if the current thinking isn't working then what is it that hasn't yet been thought? You may say; 'what a silly question. If we knew the answer we would be doing it'. So where do the answers come from? They come from in-side you. Insights (a sight from within) happen in a moment but cannot occur when people have so much on their minds.

Becoming fearless

If you are not feeling fearless then what are you going to do about it? Or if you know someone who is operating from fear is it time to take responsibility and get help? The reason for this is that there are people who are being destructive and they don't realise it and in that sense they are innocent. They are sabotaging good work they have done because they are not handling the new challenges that face them. When this happens the good people will leave a company. Teachers move to another school or get out of their profession. People literally vote with their feet.

The fearless leaders sometimes have to take a risk and jump into the unknown and rely on their innate wisdom and common sense. They listen to their gut feeling and trust their intuition. They stop listening to what is going on in their head.

The rational, analytical mind is your personal thinking. The intuitive mind is not biased. Weighing up the pros and cons of a decision is dependent on each person's state of mind. When things go awry it is then that the common sense can go out of the window.

If you are already the fearless leader in your own life, then look at how you can help others. Be aware and conscious of what is going on around you. If someone appears to be in trouble then be responsible and take action, and if you can't help them, rather than becoming part of the problem find someone who can help. Remember everyone is doing the best they can because of their state of mind.

© Gilly Chater, Insight Powered Breakthroughs
July 2011


Gilly helps people achieve insight powered breakthroughs for themselves and their businesses. She is an inspirational speaker who presents keynotes and breakouts at conferences and writes about the key ingredients for success in today’s world.

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