The Real Advantage of Fear and Anxiety in Leadership
The good you’d like to do – but don’t do because of fear – exposes you.
Fears reveal highest realities.
Fear wipes steam from the glass. The person looking back surprises you.
The awkward potential of anxiety, worry, and fear is uncomfortable self-revelation.
You see yourself clearly when your knees knock, and self-protection takes charge.
Virtue that yields to danger is platitude.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”
The point of highest reality:
Generosity with little cost tends toward self-affirming conceit. “See how generous I am.” But generosity with dirty hands expresses the highest reality of kindness.
The highest reality of generosity is humility, not conceit.
You make room for others to learn from responsible failure only when it’s safe. But when higherups inquire, “What are you doing about John’s screw up?”, John ends up under the bus.
The breaking point of kindness reveals you.
Risk reveals highest realities. There’s little advantage in giving second chances when there’s no risk.
Serving the best interest of others out of abundance is safe service.
The highest reality of service is seen when serving others might disadvantage you.
Perhaps it’s useful to acknowledge fear in the pursuit of virtuous leadership. Don’t beat yourself down when you fear generosity, service, or giving second chances.
The door you fear is the door to step through.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela
What contribution would you make if self-protection shrank and serving the best interest of others took charge?
How might you step in that direction today?
I worked in a toxic workplace. In that environment FEAR was a tool to control both managers and union workers. In a way, this environment really exposed who was genuine and those who were fair-weather people and lacked real morals. Nothing like a crisis to pull the wool from your eyes. Very few people stood for what they espoused when things were not safe. I tried against all odds to continue and not wary from my values and ethics. After 9 months … I was fired for being a bad leader. Perhaps that was true in a pool of toxic leadership. The values that I later discovered were servant leadership values. No matter what the environment or crisis, help others attain their best selves and only worry about stuff that you can control. That’s how I tried to survive in that toxic environment.
Thanks Michael. Thanks for sharing your story. It serves me both as a cautionary tale and an encouragement. When looking for opportunities values and culture matter!
It’s encouraging to read your story and know that values and servant-leadership matter to you. cheers
Dan, this is an amazing post. I have read a couple times and I sense the value in reflecting on this post thoughtfully. It’s packed with powerful proverbs – from CS Lewis to Mandela. I esp like “The highest reality of generosity is humility, not conceit.” This really spoke to me. When we give to make ourselves look good or to affirm our status, it doesn’t reflect the highest or deepest generosity.
Thanks Ron. Your kind words are encouraging. It’s always a pleasure to be of service.
The idea that humility is highest reality of generosity comes right out of my own lack of humility when I think I’m being generous. 🙂
I have been in significant leadership positions for years…and this post hit home. I don’t discount generosity in leadership when it comes at little or no cost to my own stability or self-position. Yet I don’t put such generosity in the bank, either. It’s the crises I’ve faced over 40 years of leadership, the situations where I took risks, where the glass reflected not my face but question marks, that, as I reflect, count to me. I’ve learned that all difficult, challenging, anxiety-evoking decisions I have made have been the 55%-45% ones, or maybe they’re 50-50 and I had to take a stand. When 1500 employees report ultimately to me, the decisions I make that are crucial are those that 1,499 others could not resolve. No one made me a decision God. If I’ve served those on my team well, we’ll collaborate on that one last decision – and my answer will be based on my experience, my knowledge, my gut – and the 1,499 others who helped me make it.
Thanks Ron. You bring up the toughest situation. When you can gather input and find something that makes sense to a majority the decision feels less worrisome. However, when you find yourself in the minority, it can also be anxiety ridden. (That’s another story)
I’m glad you mention that we shouldn’t discount generosity that doesn’t cost much. After all, what should we do when generosity is easy, be stingy and self-centered?? 🙂
Luke 14:11 “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
FEAR – Fear Everything and Run
Face Everything and Rise
As a leader, I used to be petrified at the thought of making mistakes as I felt it would make me look weak as a leader. Over time, I have learned that is okay to be wrong, to make a poor decision, and most importantly to own them and learn from them. It is a tough pill to swallow, but when you show humility and gratitude through your words and actions, it actually strengthens you as a leader.
Great post Dan!
In a society riddled with fear, the challenges we face in leadership continue to grow.
Thanks Joe. Your observation confirms a conversation I had this morning with a manager. When we own mistakes, poor decisions and learn from them, people respect us. But when we pretend we do everything well that we become untrustworthy.
“The good you’d like to do – but don’t do because of fear – exposes you.”
“Fears reveal highest realities.” This one really hits close to home for me. There are many decisions that I make or delay due to my own fear. When we do things only to make ourselves look good, it does not reflect our true selves.