Fearful Leaders are Followers
Every morning I put my fingers on the keyboard not knowing what will come out. An hour or two later, I post 300 word or less on this blog. (Technically its fewer not less.)
Writing is thinking and often I think differently when the hour’s over. Yesterday it happened again when I typed, “Fearful leaders are followers.” I hadn’t planned it. But, there it was in all its discomfort. It’s been on my mind since.
Fearful leaders follow because they:
- Focus on protecting positions.
- Let others take risks so they aren’t held responsible.
- Love the security of the status quo. What is satisfies. What could be isn’t worth it.
Fearful leaders need too much certainty.
Josh Linkner, in “Disciplined Dreaming,” suggests entrepreneurial leaders pull the trigger with 70% certainty. Anything higher isn’t entrepreneurial.
Traditional leaders pull the trigger at 80% certainty. Anything higher is stagnation.
The uncomfortable 20%
What about the 20% uncertainty factor? Answer fear with trust. Believe in people. Let them rise to the challenge.
Once decisions are made, focus on supporting people, forget the decisions.
Fear and love:
Fear works for the short-term but exhausts in the end. Love works for the long-term. Love your organization, its mission, and its people. Build them up. Trust them. Love energizes.
Winners risk failure. Losers can’t fail. Furthermore, willingness to fail, frees. Protection mode hobbles you and those around you.
Leaders controlled by fear may have positions but they aren’t leading.
Yesterday’s post: “Igniting Change from the Middle.”
For the passionate middle: “Lead your Boss,” by John Baldoni.
Fill in the blank, “Fearful leaders _______.”
How can leaders overcome fear?
Fearful leaders are self-serving. Great post! Heard Seth Godin say most people are more afraid of criticism than failure. So ineffective!
Thanks for the good word. I think Seth is right! Great addition when thinking about fearful leaders.
Good Morning Dan,
You wrote, losers can’t fail. Know what you meant I think. Losers can’t win. If one doesn’t buy a lottery ticket no chance of winning. Are you saying I got a chance? (Dumb and Dumber reference) Got a chance if one does Something, Anything! I would rather miss my mark in glorious, remarkable fashion than to fearfully do nothing. I have read winners keep trying till they find what works. Heard it like they fail their way to the top. Just got to take one of Og’s scrolls to heart….I will persist till I succeed. Now go find a paradigm and shift it!
I was thinking, if we aren’t willing to fail we will never win.
I spoke a the graduation of inmates at a Federal Prison. I congratulated them on being willing to fail a test in order to earn their high school diploma.
Best wishes, Scott. Yup, you got a chance… 🙂
Oh how I hates it when I can’t remember one of my favorite quotes. Paraphrasing….”the saddest stories are not those of people who tried and failed but those after a mighty fight with the goal within reach all that is required is the final push and they stop. Never knowing how close they were to achieving their goal.”
Do not, will not, get to my final breath and look back and have a cold wind blow through me and realize I missed it all. When I take that last breath I am gonna know I am all used up, took every chance with dogged determination, shared how much I love the people in my life and found the dumbest, stupidest paradigms and shifted those suckers!!!!
Thanks Dan for jogging my brain and almost remembering one of my favorite quotes! Maybe someone reading this will recognize it and I can read it the way it was written to begin with.
Have a great day!
Being able to accurately evaluate risk and then act on those evaluations is crucial to making changes. Leaders on each end of the spectrum of risk adversity can stunt growth instead of foster it.
Yea i strongly believe it that fearful leaders are followers because they will always be inffluence by inferiority complex which will always make them to believe that they will always fail if they try to contest as a leader and by so doing the would prefer to be fellowers and please note that the are not always contributive to any organization they may belong to. Thanks am Ikechukwu Titus a Nigerian
Great having someone from Nigeria jump into the conversation. I had a real spike of readership from Namibia a couple days ago. Go Africa!
We need to create the environment where it truly is okay to fail. In many companies today, people are promoted for one good initiative or idea. Many of these people are playing it safe – they have never failed. Failure helps us learn and grow. Years ago, the people who were promoted had depth – they could show success AND failure. They got the position because they could talk about what they learned from failure and how they became successful after the lesson.
It’s okay to fail if the focus is “What have we learned?” Perhaps we need to ask “what have you learned from failure” more often.
I think this might be what you’re looking for Scott? (At least I think it captures the thought you were conveying.)
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
That is close JT does that quite go on? I remember the quote I am partially remembering saying something about getting right close to getting what they are working for and giving up right before they got it. Never knowing how close they were. Like that Barnes guy stopping 3 feet from gold(think and grow rich).
Fearful leaders don’t lead; they boast and blame.
Real leaders accept blame and boost the efforts of others.
The only way to overcome fear is to fail, adapt and try again. That is the only way to keep fear in its place. Unfortunately this is easy to write and harder to live. But real leaders become leaders by failing and recovering and then making it safe for others to fail and recover.
Thanks Dauna… love the rhythm of “boast and blame” 🙂
Dan, Thank you for this and many other thought-provoking posts. I agree that leaders who let their fears guide their actions are not likely to be effective. I also believe that fear can serve a very important function. It helps us to recognize potential threats, and it puts us on notice to be alert and aware. The fear of failure can help leaders avoid it if they use it as an impetus rather than an excuse or unconscious barrier to inaction. It seems impossible to avoid the emotion of fear. In my opinion, the challenge for a leader is to recognize and understand their fears and act bravely and boldly in spite of them.
Hi Lyn, I’m so glad you brought the good side of fear into this conversation. No fear is foolish! Thanks for adding.
Fearful leaders lack confidence.
The only way to overcome fear is to give into your vulnerability. We all lack confidence, but the humble recognition of your humanity sets you free!
Self awareness is key!
for me, give into vulnerability translates into accepting the worst that could happen. That frees me from being controlled by fear.
It’s a lot easier to point out all the others being hesitant leaders than practicing humble recognition of my own humanity. Understanding that I prefer following because I fundamentally fear failure and do not trust myself or others creates a lot of discomfort. I just hope that I can use what you’ve articulated to take more ownership in the start up where I’m the only employee. There is too much at stake to go on the defensive every time insecurity sneaks in. Growing self awareness does help to move forward through the fear rather than becoming frozen by it. Thanks for the insights, Dan & Heidi.
Good morning and thank you Dan for this post.
Napolean Bonaparte referred to leaders as ‘dealers in hope’ and I think it’s likely the case that fearful leaders lack hope.
Now how to overcome fear- whatever the source – that is the million dollar question. Good coaching helps to increase self awareness (as Heidi says) and in my view, that’s a great starting point.
Your comment made my eyebrow raise when you brought hope to the conversation… wonderful add. Perhaps we should try to instill fearful leaders with hope.
While I read the post, my mind kept on asking ” what drives fear”?
So, we need to know the fear. And more importantly what is the trigger of the fear. I think fear is motivation. And motivation could be either positive or negative or both. So, it depends upon what kind of fear we have. Secondly, need of safety, security or superiority blob..blob drives fear. So, we are looking for? Are we concerned about our position, safety of position, security or superiority? To know whether fear drive positive or negative energy depends upon our ability to dream and live. Therefore, you are right that fearful leaders are followers because they are leaders anyways. And they are fearful because they wand to survive first and lead ultimately. Thus, it seems that fearful leaders are followers in short run but fearless leaders in long run. Here, fearless does not mean arrogance. Taking my personal example I am fearful when I expect to achieve something. And to overcome fear, I do everything to overcome fear and it takes me to lead, because I am almost beyond the fear zone.
And I believe that leaders can overcome fear by following certain principles. Find out root reason of fear, go back to fundamental solution to address fear, refer others examples, again go back to the fundamental solutions and do not quit until you are confident enough.
I also believe that fear is just perception. It does not exist who is aware about self will power, courage and determination.
Thank you Ajay…my take-away today is look for the root reason of fear. I can see how that helps us overcome it because we can strike at the root.
How about, “I’d rather fail at something, than succeed at nothing.”
I love a well turned phrase…thanks
Thanks for this followup post, Dan. Reading yesterday’s, with all its value (and personal relevance), “fearful leaders are followers” was still what stuck with me all day.
I’ve seen Nos. 1 and 2 many times, and they often beget No. 3 — the leader doesn’t necessarily think he/she loves the status quo, but that’s all that’s left after taking the first two steps.
Great seeing you James. Thanks for your candor. It feels good to know someone else found that phrase challenging. Cheers.
Trust, empathy and kindness… All attributes of a mindful leader 😉
I’m more convinced now than ever, that trusting others is the path to overcoming leadership fear… of course we have to support, encourage, and develop their skills.
I once had a boss who told me that the key to being an effective manager was to first develop the relationship and then worry about how to manage it.
Excellent, you are lucky to have had such a boss! Trust is the foundation for any relationship.
I read you daily and this is my favorite, so far! I love the TRUST you exhibited in sticking with your opening premise to explore it. Losers are so fearful, they do not trust their intuition, they need data, data, data before proceeding. I like your aligning trusting of both one’s intuition and the 70% chance of success with then believing in and fully loving/supporting the team. THANKS.
An encouraging word is a thing of beauty. Thank you and best wishes
Glad to hear you write from the heart and gut, Dan. Then sometimes, occasionally, it just doesn’t feel right, so I start again . Not often that happens, because when I simply write, it falls out, and that’s OK for me, so it has t be for everyone else.
Fearful leaders…are ‘in the way’, works for me.
Thanks for your affirmation Martin. I’m thankful for you.
Great post Dan
I come across this a lot, and in my view, Fearful Leaders….aren’t. They hold a job title, but not a role.
The 20% is powerful. we are at a time when anything that can be taught or applied by a consultant, can be applied anywhere. The implication is that benchmarking, sytems and protocols push us as individuals, and our organisations toward the middle of the competitive distribution curve; towards average.
Real progress comes from originality, insight and passion – and that can only come from us, it cannot be “taught”.
So perhaps we end up with a compound – the 20% of our own thoughts and ideas that needs courage and conviction to articulate, and further courage to apply that 20% to the 20% of our business (or 30% more likely) of our business where the uncertainty and fear sits.
with the “half life” of ideas and intitaitves getting ever shorter, the reality is we have little choice if we don’t want to become a commodity. Scary, but true I think – and exciting if we allow it to be.
I find your comment challenging..even disturbing in a good way. Thank you for pushing me.
Fearful leaders are frustrating to those under them!
We need to retire the word”leader” when referring to managers who are dumped into leadership positions thus reaching their level of incompetence, i.e., The Peter Principle. We denigrate leaders when we refer to such non-leaders as leaders.
Dr. Abraham Zaleznik in, “The Managerial Mystique, restoring leadership in business,” says that when managers and future managers make mistakes they learn never to do that again while leaders and future leaders make mistakes they learn never to do that again in that way. The difference is huge and explains why managers fail to lead, they are avoid mistakes at all costs.
Wonderful comment Robert.
I confess that sometimes I use the terms interchangeably. I don’t like the first class/second class distinction that can be made.
However, it’s unfortunate when someone gets into a role they aren’t equipped to handle.
I love your comment “fear works for the short-term…love works for the long-term.” It is so true. It is,at least sometimes, frightening to think and talk about love in organizations, but it is my experience that more love is needed. My “job” as a coach, in many ways, is to simply love my clients. To give them a safe space to be all they can be. A leader who loves allows and fosters the best in his or her people and organization. I guess the Beatles knew what they were singing about with “love is all you need.” Thanks Dan.
How are leaders made? Some are natural leaders, the rest need nurturing and guidance. The current status quo are learning they are not the be all to end all (well maybe very very very slowly) and egos get in the way. We are beginning to teach in the more open world a way of leadership that fosters learning, openness, and what it takes to lead. I am glad to be part of that connected leadership.
Great post and terrific comments. I learned as a child to “be a leader, not a follower” which can be challenging. Being an effective leader (not in the cult tradition, however) is critical. Self-serving leaders, as someone commented, are inneffective, and we all know who they are. Let’s not forget the unwritten rule of 80/20.
Thanks for the good word and insights.
I “so related” to your statement–Fearful leaders follow. I am becoming a braver leader, but it is not easy. I fear what other people will think, failure, the consequences of leading, etc. As an Evangelical Southern Christian Woman, I believe that the “main thing” we should concentrate on is what our Heavenly Father thinks and what would He want us to do. I heard a “famous writer” say last night that he concentrates on doing “quality work” and he doesn’t worry so much about what all the Social networks say about his stuff! Sounds like “good advice” to me and he is a nationally known Jewish editorialist—Thomas Friedman. I am a conservative politically, but his thoughts sounded “down-to-earth” and on-target. Really, book tour for That Used To Be Us which I have not read. Thanks again for Fearful Leaders Follow—I’ll try to “remember it” and pass it on.
I think you hit the nail on the head with this one! I think Fearful Leaders are too scared to be who they were that lead them to the top. They are self serving and no longer are willing to take the risks involved. They look out for themselves and often hide behind great employees. Well said!