5 Signs Fear is Undermining Your Leadership

You Can't Follow Fear

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 fear  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.

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 defence. 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 an conversation any more 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 any more, 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 the brave guy 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 the 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.

What signs do you see that fear might be undermining your leadership?

What are you doing about it?


  1. Jeremiah Jason Herbert on August 31, 2016 at 11:44 am

    Have you ever dealt specifically with the topic of fear that God is somehow displeased or disappointed with your leadership or failures as a leader? Saul, Moses and even David had to face that fear and not everyone did that well. Any tips or ideas on how to regain your confidence as a leader in Christ?

  2. Chad Hoffman on June 10, 2013 at 4:25 am

    Excellent piece of courageous leadership. This was incredibly helpful! I’m going to start having more hard conversations. Fear is normal to experience. However, when you allow it to undermine your leadership, it becomes panic which is paralyzing.

    • cnieuwhof on June 10, 2013 at 10:43 am

      So glad Chad…I’m praying it goes well for you and your team.

  3. Leadership in 140 Characters | Eric Echols on May 11, 2013 at 6:31 am

    […] 5 Signs Fear is Undermining Your Leadership by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  4. Jeff Hooper on May 10, 2013 at 1:11 am

    Love this..thanks for sharing!!

  5. James K. Lewis, M.A., CCNL on May 9, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Wow . . . this hits home for me. So many issues stem from fear and we may not realize it until too late, and it becomes unhealthy . . . literally. Thanks

  6. Brent Dumler on May 7, 2013 at 8:28 am

    This is deep! Fear being fearful. Fear doesn’t have an objective or a mission. Courage, however, does…..to trample over fear on its way to the destination!

  7. Chuck on May 3, 2013 at 8:05 am

    I just wanna copy and paste what Lawrence said. Am I allowed to do that?

  8. Lawrence W. Wilson on May 3, 2013 at 7:57 am

    Carey, #2 is the most telling for me. When I see that I (or our staff) am spending more time predicting problems (and how we’ll mitigate them), I know I’ve lost sight of what we’re trying to accomplish. I’ll add one more sign: lack of joy.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 3, 2013 at 8:34 am

      Great insight Lawrence and I agree with Chuck, you are bang on when you say lack of joy is so characteristic of fear. When was the last time a fearful leader was excited about something?

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.