Fear is an interesting emotion – most people would generally like to avoid this ‘negative’ emotion. And I can see why. It is discomforting, and creates uneasiness. However, I have a different view to offer.

First of all, I believe, the word ‘fear’ is a little too intense. I would like to reword this as ‘anything that stops you.’ For example, you have a great idea and you want to share that idea with your organization’s CEO – but you get stopped before you can by his/her gatekeepers. Or, it is declaring to someone that you love her or him – but again, you get stopped and the feelings are not reciprocal.

In all of these above examples, it can be easily stated that fear stopped you.

But what is ‘fear,’ really? 

Fear is an emotion, caused by an automatic story or assessment created by your mind stating ‘something specific here may cause me harm’ — or that there is danger.

Danger could be physical danger, or it could mean danger to your self-esteem. You may be blind to this assessment happening; it might occur totally at a subconscious level.

But it is this assessment that you make that gives you the emotion of fear.

Go back to that CEO example above. You may have an assessment that sharing a new idea with your CEO may be declined, and may potentially harm your reputation with the CEO. This assessment stops you from sharing the idea, in essence.

One of my own coaches, Bob Dunham, once said:

“Fear is simply your body telling you that you are not organized for this moment.”

I’ve heard similar phrases, but I find this interpretation powerful.

Let’s take an example Mr. X, who is really good at, say, Bungee Jumping. For him, Bungee Jumping is a not a big deal at all. In other words, his body is organized for Bungee Jumping.

On the other hand, I know a lady, a relative of mine, we’ll call her Ms. Y, she is afraid of elevators. Every time Ms. Y comes to my house, she takes the stairs and climbs up 7 floors.

Simply seen, she hasn’t accustomed her body to be in the elevator.

And the reason for that is simple: she hasn’t travelled in the elevator enough to get her body adapted to the elevator. The more she travels in the elevator, the more familiarized her body gets. Her fear of elevators keeps her away from elevators, and the more she stays away, the more fear grows.

Zig Ziglar, then popularly known as America’s ambassador to the world, stated the acronym for FEAR stands for:

  • False
  • Evidence
  • Appearing
  • Real.

I like the fact that Ziglar calls this ‘False Evidence’, and this is because:

  • we create an assessment;
  • we hold this assessment to be true, and then;
  • we forget we made up this assessment.

And then this assessment (false evidence) gives us our fear.

What are the benefits of fear, though?

Our bodies were designed to experience fear, because fear has certain inherent benefits. These are:

  • Fear saves you from physical harm: Thank God for fear – we do not walk in the middle of a road when cars are buzzing past; or jump off tall buildings; or play with fire; and so forth. Fear has an important role to play – because of fear, we do not engage with things that may cause us physical damage.
  • Only Fear provides an opportunity for courage: This is a critical benefit that many people are blind to. Courage has an opportunity to emerge only and only when there is fear. You cannot have courage unless there is fear. So the next time there is fear of something, remind yourself that this fear actually provides a platform to you to be courageous.

When you declare a big goal, and you achieve that big goal – it significantly and positively impacts your self-belief. The next time, goals of that size do not scare you. That’s what I mean by ‘a certain expansion that takes place’.

How fear plays into leadership coaching

I often get these questions in seminars and coaching I do:

What is the difference between a courageous person and someone who is not courageous?

The person who is not courageous listens to his fears and follows his fears, while the courageous person puts his fear aside and goes ahead despite having fear.

What is Courage then?

Courage is going into the unknown despite fear. Courage is not fearlessness. The courageous person knows and experiences fear too.

What is Boldness and Courage?

Boldness and courage is taking action even when there is fear. Every mood or emotion has an internal conversation and the internal conversation of boldness is ‘Even though I have fear, I will take action.’ There is some idea behind ‘bold leadership’ too.

Is it all right to be afraid?

Yes it is. It is absolutely all right to be afraid, and only when you are afraid do you have the opportunity to be bold and courageous.

Finally, before we move into the practices section, I want to remind you that each one of us has potential for courage in our life. Some thing or the other is stopping us all. The first step is to identify ‘what is it that is stopping me?’

Best practices for dealing with fear

  1. In each area that matters to you, if you look deeply enough, where do you see courage missing? For example, having a particularly difficult conversation with your boss, partner, client, associate or even a member of your family (parent, spouse, child, relative, etc.); or making an unreasonable request of someone; or making a new bold promise.
  2. This week, be bold, be courageous, and be open to seeing what new possibilities emerge for you as this new observer. For me, ‘being bold this week’ means making requests I have historically not made (without the worry of a decline); it includes making promises that otherwise I would be afraid to make, and fulfilling these promises; and it also means making bold declarations.
  3. Reflect on, and track, your examples of fear, courage, and being bold. That could involve keeping a journal, or it could involve regular coach meetings, or it could involve something else. But you need to hold yourself accountable to your broader goal, or it’s nearly impossible to achieve.

About Sameer Dua

Founder Director, Program Leader and Leadership Coach, The Institute for Generative Leadership, India.

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