Fear is an intensely human experience. We’ve all felt it. We probably learn to live with most of it. But the emotion often translates into crazy, irrational behavior. For an individual, that’s one thing. But what happens when a team or an organization hangs in the balance?
I’ve become convinced that fear is the single factor most capable of derailing a leader’s effectiveness. Responsibilities, pressure, visibility – all of these factors tend of “pile on” over time. Sooner or later we all need to come to grips with the fears inherent with the position.
Fear is a given. Our response to fear determines the outcome. It takes courage to lead.
Below are a sample of common fears leaders face – along with some common reactions and opportunities for response.
I was able to attend my fourth Leadercast seminar earlier this month. This year I attended a simulcast in Orlando, FL. As always, it inspired me with both new and familiar ideas. The theme this year was bravery. Here are some of my key takeaways – and you can also catch up on the social conversation with the tags #leadercast and #thebraveones.
I’ll admit I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years when it comes to identifying leadership ability in others. Some I’ve thought would be great weren’t – and others I didn’t give much consideration turned out to be amazing. It’d be a lot easier if there was a scientific method to show who could get the job done. Until then, we’ll have to do the best we can.
One of the first mistakes we often make is assuming that the person in charge is always the leader. Then, when it turns out they aren’t, we give up. But what if leadership doesn’t have anything to do with having a title? In that case, it would be possible to have an organization filled with leaders at every level.
I’m afraid I’ve come to recognize a serious leadership deficit today in America. It’s probably nothing new. It’s what I call “the fear of the finger.” Not the middle finger, mind you. I’m talking about the index finger. Precious few individuals are willing to risk being on the other end of a finger that could end up being pointed at them. Especially when it turns into many fingers in high profile situations.
In other words, there is a great reluctance to take a stand in ambiguous or unpopular situations and declare, “If this doesn’t work, I’ll be the one who goes down with the ship.”
The great tragedy is that the opportunity for true leadership, the kind that welcomes responsibility and takes courageous and necessary risks in spite of the unknown – that kind of leadership, has never been in higher demand. Worse still, the kind of leadership that takes a stand is exactly the prerequisite to rallying others to unite and follow.
Adversity is no respecter of persons. Our experiences are usually different, but each of us gets our turn. Our organizations do too, for that matter.
So what happens when adversity strikes? How can we climb our way our of it? This isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are some thinking patterns that have helped me maintain a sense of sanity and clarity over the years.
One of the leadership questions I often hear is this: how can I be a leader when I’m so young?
I can’t think of a better example to share than this month’s leadership profile Malala Yousafzai.
I first heard of Malala when it was reported the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat Valley had attempted to assassinate the then 15 year-old girl on her way home from school, shooting her in the face at point blank range in October, 2012. Her only “crime” was standing up and speaking out for the education rights of girls in the region. After an amazing recovery in Birmingham, England, Malala slowly but surely redoubled her efforts to speak out on behalf of education equality. Her book I Am Malala was released one year after her assassination attempt and she was the youngest person ever to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Malala’s media story has yet to peak, but I believe there are several takeaways from a leadership front as well, particularly for young leaders. Here they are:
I first heard Jack Welch speak at the Leadercast Seminar in 2013. Even though he was over a decade into retirement and in his upper 70s, Welch’s rich enthusiasm for business and leadership took the audience (and the moderator) by storm. In raising General Electric’s value by over 4000% in his twenty years as CEO, Welch has to be considered one of the iconic American business men of the second half of the 20th century. What surprised me was how much fun he seemed to have in the process.
The greatest part of Welch’s contribution may be in the form of giving back – by sharing his knowledge of business and management with all sorts of audience and through various speaking engagements and books he’s written in his retirement. Here’s a snip-it of what I picked up.
Image by Joshua Zumbrun
Today’s post was guest-written by my brother Lt. Cale Magnuson, a U.S. Marine currently assigned to the Marines Aviation Program. You can connect with Cale on LinkedIn.
I distinctly remember the first time I ever heard Captain Tucker tell us that he loved us. Captain Tucker was the platoon commander charged with instilling in us the art and science of becoming Officers in the Marine Corps. As you might imagine, this raised some eyebrows. Captain Tucker is still to this day the hardest Marine I have ever met. As a Purple Heart recipient, he could have ordered us to follow him to hell and back, and none of us would have hesitated. So why would such a man openly tell a bunch of new Lieutenants that he loved us?
On April 21, 2003, Carolyn Jessop finally followed through on a plot more daring than any you or I have likely faced. Under the cover of darkness in the middle of the night she herded her 8 children past several “sister wives” and into a van where they narrowly escaped the quasi-totalitarianism of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a polygamist group renounced by the Mormon Church) and her life as one of several abused wives to one of the group’s highest leaders.
Five short years later, she was called on by authorities as an expert in the initial custody process following the raid of the YFZ Ranch in Texas, which was being run by her ex-husband. The raid proved pivotal in landing the extremist sect’s leader Warren Jeffs in prison with a life sentence on multiple child sexual assault convictions.
I read Jessop’s New York Times bestseller Escape after it had just been released in 2007 as I was training for an overseas deployment to Iraq with the U.S. Army. I’m not sure what prompted me to read her story – or how I even heard about it – but I immediately thought she deserved to win some kind of Outstanding Person of the Year award and wished I could tell her as much. Jessop doesn’t lead a nation, a sports club or a Fortune 500 company, but she embodies some of the most important leadership attributes you or I could ever hope to learn.
Have you ever had a coach, teacher, or mentor in your formative years who pushed you to be more than you thought you could become on your own? If so, you’ll strongly appreciate this month’s leadership profile featuring my high school football coach, Dick Burton – even if you’ve never been an athlete.