The Real Reason Most Leaders Don't Accomplish Anything Significant

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If you’re a leader, you’re probably not 100% happy with where you’re at or where your organization is at.

Truthfully, you want more. And no, it’s not always a greedy need for more. Often your drive for more is noble: you deeply believe in your cause and you want to make some kind of dent in the universe.

That’s not a bad thing. Really, it isn’t.

And please, don’t misconstrue the title of this post. I’m not beating up on you.

Of course you’re doing something that matters. You’re a leader. You’re making a difference. But chances are dream of doing something more significant than what you’re actually doing.

That drive is also what makes you a leader. And that drive is something God has used again and again in human history. In fact, that drive might have been put there by God in the first place.

And let’s face it, too many leaders end up stepping back from leadership frustrated.

They wanted to do so much more…but didn’t.

So what’s the real reason most leaders don’t accomplish anything more significant than what they’ve already done?

Fear.

It’s nasty. It’s everywhere. And it’s killing your dreams.Not to mention God’s.

Here’s how.

The Double Nastiness of Fear

Want to know how nasty fear is?

You’re afraid of not accomplishing anything more significant with your life; yet it’s fear that’s keeping you from actually doing it.

So no matter what you do, you’re afraid. You’re afraid you’re missing out, and too afraid to do what you need to do to overcome it.

Is it any wonder whenever angels showed up in scripture, they’re opening words were “Do not be afraid?” Because we are. Almost always.

So which fear would you rather live with? The fear of not doing anything more significant with your life, or the fear that’s keeping you from doing it?

It’s not a whole lot more complicated than that, really.

And it’s your choice.

People Who Do Significant Things Are Afraid Too

Almost everyone I know is afraid.

I know people who are leading large movements who are afraid.

I know pastors who are leading churches that are making a massive impact who are afraid.

I know business leaders who are making a huge impact on their industry who are afraid.

I know people who are trying to make their families better who are afraid.

I know many writers who are afraid to hit publish every time. Including me.

But you know what the difference is between people who are making a big impact and people who aren’t? The people who are making a big impact push through their fears. Being leader often means:

  • You go first
  • You try things no one else has tried
  • You do things that in the moment look stupid and only later look smart
  • You try a few things that really do fail
  • You open yourself to criticism
  • You put your past accomplishments on the line

Fear is a natural companion of true leadership.

Sometimes it’s easy to think that the people who are crushing it don’t experience fear at all.

And all you need to do is wait for the moment when you don’t feel fear so you can finally act.Good luck if that’s your approach, because you’ll be waiting for that moment until you die.

The best way to conquer fear is to push through it.
 

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5 Ways Fear Shows Up, Waiting to Pounce

Fear shows up in many ways. Here are the 5 ways I experience fear almost every day:

1. Fear of rejection

If I have one overriding fear in my life, it’s that people will reject me.  It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I still expect the phone to ring or the email to come that says “We’ve made a mistake…you can’t hang out with us anymore.”

I don’t know whether you have a message like that circulates in your mind like that, but I sure do. And every time I hear it, my head has to keep telling my heart that it’s a lie.

And naturally, the surest way to ensure you don’t get rejected is to do nothing. To take no risks. To play it safe.

Ironically, the more risks I take, the more God seems to use me and bless that risk. And—ironically—the more people seem to say “hey…you want to hang out?” But I have to override that default message every time.

2. Fear of criticism

I have a bit of a tough skin on the outside, but criticism still hurts. And every time you take a risk or try something that has the potential to change things, you open yourself to the critics.

You can always learn something, and if you’re hearing criticism from wise people, sharpen your pencil. Take good notes.

Criticism aimed at people doing significant things often comes from people who are doing nothing significant. Remember that, and press on.

Yes, you’ll make some mistakes. But you’ll learn and you’ll grow. And maybe you’ll do something worth doing at some point.

3. Fear of not having the perfect conditions for launch

We live on this side of heaven. Conditions will never be perfect for you to act.

So act.

The world is being impacted every day by people who ship with a minimum viable product.

Fear disguises itself as perfectionism. No, your design may not be awesome. Your budget may not be optimal. Your team isn’t perfect. But do it anyway.

Resources never precede vision and action anyway, they follow it.

True leaders have a massive bias for action. So do something. If you do new things regularly, you will have a shot at doing something significant eventually.

4. Fear that you don’t know enough

Right…the reason you’re not doing something is you don’t know enough yet. You’re not an expert.

You know what an expert is, right? Someone who is not from your hometown.

You probably have enough information to act. And if not, you can probably get it in the next month.

Then act.

Fear disguises itself as a lack of knowledge. You probably know more than enough. Don’t let fear win.

5. Fear of a catastrophe once you’ve launched

But what happens if everything goes horribly wrong once I’ve acted? I won’t be able to get that moment back again.

Sure. That’s true.

But you’re a half decent leader and you’ve got a decent team around you. So act.

How bad can it be really?

If it is truly a bad idea, kill it after it sputters for a while. You will have learned a few things.

And chances are that things will go better than you thought.

The greatest catastrophe would be never acting, wouldn’t it?

Those are fears that show up in my life far too often. And of course, the spiritual issue underneath all this is trust, isn’t it?

When I allow fear to run my life, I fail to trust God.

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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.