Leaders understand fear all too well. If they are worth their salt, they can even anticipate people fears about them as a leader. Is he or she telling the truth? Is the truth they are telling coming off as desperate? Is someone else telling them to say that or do that? Do they have my best interest at heart, or is there a hidden agenda? Are they projecting confidence to win confidence or is this certitude a hoax? Are they making this up or is their instinct anchored in collective wisdom? And on and on it goes…
And maybe this is why leaders carry a double-portion of fear; they themselves are human and with this humanness carry natural fears, all the while carrying the perceived and predictable fears of those they are called to lead. When a leader senses a loss of momentum and morale, he or she can literally feel leadership leaking out of their innards. Leaders, like anyone else, fear the worst on most days and proceed anyhow. It is not fearlessness that defines a leader, but the ability to know its presence and move forward anyhow.
The dread that accompanies leadership is palpable. If things aren’t going well, dread fills your bloodstream and panic can set in. If things are going well, dread visits you in the night and tells you that it’s all about to crash. No matter where things are at, dread is whispering foul thoughts into your ears.
There are many fears that a leader is constantly nursing. Are people really with me? Is the vision I am casting too weak or too audacious? Am I taking things too personally or not personally enough? Am I spending my time or investing my time? Am I in over my head, completely out of my pay grade? If I’m successful, can I carry into the future what I helped usher into the present? Who will die with me in this thing? Am I the real deal or am I unknowingly putting on something that is blinding me to reality? Am I doing enough; am I doing too much? Do people notice that I’m dying of an internal bleed on any given bad night? Do they care as long as things on the outside continue to go well and the product is unaffected? Am I still doing this for the right reasons? Is it still about the good of mankind?
Am I driven by the primal desires that first caused me to choose this path? Are my interactions with disappointing and disappointed people infecting my spirit? Can people tell that I’m angry because of the letdowns? Is my bitterness bleeding over into my interactions with people leading them to believe ill of me?
I could keep going for pages and pages. The point is this: Leaders are more afraid that it looks. I’ve spent a good deal of time with leaders this year and I can’t believe how affected by life they all are. And it’s not just seismic shifts; it’s subtle shifts that eat them alive inside.
There is a reason for this. They want, worse than bad, for the thing they are leading to go well. They want people to move the ball down the field in their lives. They want to take care of the people who are counting on them for their livelihood. They want the mission to be accomplished and the vision to come to fruition. They would just about give their last drop of blood for it.
Good leaders want to be successful, but not for their own vainglory. They want the organism or the organization they are leading to help people find their purpose and to be filled and fulfilled by it.
And they’re scared that any number of millions of factors will prevent this. They are afraid that if the make a mistake it could cost the “whole”. As Jesus said, “A little leaven affects the whole lump.” That freaks me out. That freaks leaders out! And though it’s not all on the leader and his narrow shoulders, there is something to be said for the unique weight the leader feels and the chain reaction that is set off when he or she makes a move, whether good or bad.
Leaders are just afraid to ruin something that could be really good “if only”…