You Can’t Follow Fear: 5 Signs Fear’s Getting the Best of You As a Leader


Want to know what might be holding back your leadership?


Most leaders I talk to struggle with fear in one measure or another.

Fear can be so difficult to wrestle down until you realize how fatal fear is to leadership.

What’s so problematic with the fear that lives inside leaders? It’s simple.

You can’t follow fear. 

Fear will try to kill your courage, your leadership and any progress you’re making because it knows if it wins it can disable your mission and it can disable you.

Here’s why unchecked fear will disarm effective leadership every time. Leadership is about taking people places.

Fear doesn’t know where it’s going. 

Fear only knows where it’s not going.

No one can follow fear. Because fear doesn't know where it's going, only where it's not going. Click To Tweet

As a result, no one can follow fear. You can’t. And definitely the people you lead can’t. Because fear doesn’t go anywhere except backward or sideways.

And yet (be honest) fear is a constant companion for many leaders.

Fear doesn't go anywhere except backward or sideways. Click To Tweet

So how do you know whether fear is getting the best of you as a leader?

Here are 5 signs that show that fear is undermining your leadership:

1. You avoid doing 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.

And in the process, you even lose respect for yourself.

Fear makes you sell your soul in little pieces over time. Click To Tweet

2. You imagine reactions to change more than you imagine the benefits 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.

When you won’t lead because of any anticipated reactions, fear has won.

Fear imagines the reactions to change and ignores the benefits of change. Click To Tweet

3. You decide not to say something because you are afraid of the response

Eventually, fear doesn’t just impact your decisions, it even cripples conversations that could lead to action.

Fear will make you hesitant in your conversations and meetings because you are afraid of the email, the complaint, the gossip or whatever else might ensue because of what you have to say. When that’s true, 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 used to be, and then who you’ve become.

Fear can even make us unfriend the truth because we're so afraid of people's responses. Click To Tweet

4. Your reactions become unhealthy

Often we get angry at fear, but we get angry in unhealthy ways. Rather than staring fear in the face, we take our frustration out on someone or something else.

Maybe it shows up in aggressive driving. Or maybe because you can’t control things at work any more you try to control everything in your home. Or you fly off the handle with your spouse or kids.

Sometimes being the ‘nice’ guy at work when you should have been 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, uninspired as that is. You stop dreaming and start dreading.

Hope is a hallmark of the Christian faith, but you don’t hope anymore. Fear killed hope.

Fear causes leaders to stop dreaming and start dreading. Click To Tweet

Want Something Good to Fear? Fear This.

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, I suggest you 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.

If you're going to be afraid, be afraid of never accomplishing your mission. Click To Tweet

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. Courage is just a decision that fear won’t win.

Courage isn't the absence of fear. it's just a decision that fear won't win. Click To Tweet

So today…be courageous. Tell fear it won’t win. Just lead, as frightening as that might sound. You’ll be so glad you did.

If you want more, no one writes about fear better these days than Jon Acuff. Not only is he awesome, he punches fear in the face. Click this link to check out some of his best writing on fear, and maybe start with this post, 10 Things Fear Fears. It’s brilliant.

And You?

In the meantime, what signs do you see that fear might be undermining your leadership?

What are you doing about it?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

You Can’t Follow Fear: 5 Signs Fear’s Getting the Best of You As a Leader


  1. Joel on March 20, 2015 at 6:43 am

    3rd time reading this article, just keep coming back to it.

  2. […] But then they do one more thing: they muster up the courage to push through that fear. If fear’s a big thing for you, here’s a recent post that outlines 5 signs fear is getting the best of you as a leader. […]

  3. TomH on March 2, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Excellent. #3 shows up daily. Procrastination only increases the size of the burn pile.

  4. Andrew Statezny on March 2, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    Thanks, Carey for the reminder. This helps me remember what happens when you lead out of fear.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 2, 2015 at 5:36 pm

      Thanks Andrew…for sure. We’ve all been there!

Leave a Comment

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