5 Signs Fear is Undermining Your Leadership

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Leaders are supposed to be courageous, right? And you are…sure.

But let’s be honest, sometimes you’re worried. Even fearful.

You need to deal with that.

I know it’s hard, but here’s what’s at stake:

You can’t follow fear. 

Why? Not just because fear is nasty (it is), but because:

  • Fear doesn’t know where it’s going.
  • Fear only knows where it’s not going.

No one can follow fear. You can’t because fear has no vision of a better future.

Your people can’t follow you as a fearful leader, because over time, you won’t take them anywhere good.

  • Fear lurks in the background for many of us. Think about how we’re afraid:
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear of criticism
  • Fear of not being popular
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of making a mistake
  • Fear of backlash
  • Fear of being let go

Here are 5 signs that fear is undermining your leadership:

1. You’ve avoided doing what you know to be the right thing because you fear a backlash. 

Fear makes you sell your soul. Not all at once, but in little pieces over time. You stop being a person of principle and start being a pragmatist, not in the best sense of pragmatism, but calculated pragmatism at its worst.


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2. You imagine reactions to change more than you imagine the results of change.  

If this is true, you’ve stopped running offense. You only run defense. You stop leading out of conviction. You only now worry about how people will react.

3. You haven’t said something in a meeting (or to a person) because you are afraid of the response. 

Eventually, fear doesn’t just impact your convictions, it cripples conversations. You can’t have a conversation anymore because you are afraid of the email, the complaint, the gossip. Fear has taught you to unfriend the truth. You don’t even like yourself anymore, because you feel like you are two persons– who you are on the inside, and then who you’ve become.

4. Your reaction to things outside your work has become unhealthy. 

Often when we can’t solve a problem at work, we take it out on something or someone outside office hours. Are you driving aggressively? Trying to control everything in your home? Flying off the handle with your spouse or kids? Sometimes, being the nice guy at work when you need to be brave means you stop being the nice guy at home.

5. You’ve stopped dreaming.  

This is the worst of all. And it’s a sure sign that fear is winning or has won. You stop leading from what is possible and start leading from what is probable. You stop dreaming and start dreading. Hope is a hallmark of the Christian faith, but you don’t hope anymore.

So what’s the antidote to fear?

While there are a few, believe it or not, I think one of the antidotes to fear is the fear right thing.

If you’re going to be afraid, fear this:

Be afraid of never accomplishing your mission.

That will give you courage, or at least determination. And that in turn will grow your faith.

Unlike fear, courage knows where it’s going.  It has a destination.  It leads somewhere.  It looks ahead, not back.

Courage isn’t the absence of fear.  Every courageous person I know deals with fear. Courageous people just decide that forward is better than reverse or reaction.  They trust.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.