Recently a client was doing a Leadership Wheel exercise during one of our coaching sessions and she identified “fearlessness” as one of the qualities she associates with being an empowering leader. We spent some time talking about what fearlessness looks like, what it feels like, and how one would demonstrate it in practice. We moved on to discuss other items on her list, but it stayed with me as I sat with the question myself in the days that followed. The notion of fearlessness has become so pervasive in our lexicon, but what does it really mean?
Sheryl Sandberg’s famous line from her 2013 book, Lean In, posed the question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Although this line has resonated amongst my group of friends and we have often tossed it to one another as we each faced various personal and professional inflection points over the years, it never quite sat right with me. In fact, as I was contemplating my own career pivot, rather than empowering, it left me feeling deflated and discouraged. It wasn’t a helpful question to ask because I was legitimately afraid and that fear was real even if the question was hypothetical.
I am a huge fan of Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability and courage so you will probably see her name pop up fairly often on this blog and in my practice because she has informed much of my own journey. Her research in Dare to Lead highlights that fear is present for successful leaders of all shapes and sizes, from the boardroom to the battlefield. The X factor is that they don’t let the fear overtake them or cause them to engage their defense mechanisms for fight, flight, or freeze. Instead, they translate the fear into becoming more grounded themselves so that they can stay clear on their purpose and values even when things become blurry. In fact, it’s the fear that keeps them from being reckless as they channel it in order to make intentional, thoughtful decisions and to rally their teams around a unifying vision. Rather than wasting energy on trying to conquer the fear, they embrace it and use it to inform their next steps.
The next time you are at a crossroads, pause to acknowledge the fear. Get curious about it. Reach out to a coach if you need help making sense of it. Most importantly, don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you because you are not feeling a sense of fearlessness like we hear so much about in pop culture. Just like real relationships can’t compete with those in a rom com, fearlessness in decision making is just a farce.
If you (or someone you know) could benefit from working with a certified coach and trained facilitator who will provide customized, holistic, and tireless support as you or your team identify and take action towards your goals, please reach out to One Eleven Leadership to set up a complimentary consultation.