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Four Courageous Ways to Manage Leadership Fears and Doubts

You’re in the midst of a situation or challenge that instills fear. What do you do? In the animal kingdom, fear produces a “fight or flight” response, and it’s true with people, too. But honorable leaders see fear coming and know how to handle it, right? Let’s explore this idea.

Fear Roots and Causes

Beyond the obvious, fear is often at the root of emotions like anger, shame, guilt, and pride (false pride or hubris). It termites our self-confidence and torpedoes our personal and professional relationships, further undermining our success and goals.

Doubts and fears can also cause procrastination and resistance to reasonable and needed risk-taking, and stymie initiative to overcome obstacles and achieve success.

Fear in the POW Camps

As you might expect, fear in the POW camps of Vietnam was never more than one thought away. During my first three years when torture was an ongoing tactic, all it took were the sounds of rattling jailer keys at odd hours to create an avalanche of fear.

Even in the best times, isolation, loneliness, and poor health without medical care could raise doubts that could blossom into full-blown fear. In time, together we learned some tactics to combat doubts and fear that have universal application.

4 Tactics to Conquer Fears and Doubts

These tactics might be just what is needed to help take your fearful thoughts and actions captive and reach new milestones –

Fear is Normal—Learn to Proactively Manage It

Fear can help us deal with legitimate external threats as well as trigger adrenalin and other chemicals that help us. By preparing in advance, we can train and equip ourselves to make logical choices that manage our fears (instead of our fears managing us).

When Fear Hits, Stick With Your Values and Principles

Even when we’re overwhelmed, we still have choices about how we’ll respond. Once a leader clarifies what is really important, he or she can make courageous choices to achieve goals even when faced with doubts and fears. The lesson I learned (and can see it operating in all successful people) is that we must be willing to suffer to be who we are called to be and to achieve our most important goals.

Be Willing to Suffer for the Right Causes

Great achievements are generally the culmination of a lot of delayed gratification, making hard choices and doing hard things—and yes, suffering. So when you look ahead at your goals, consider your passion for them. Is your passion and commitment strong enough that you’re willing to suffer to achieve them? If so, then you’ll be able to lean into your doubts and fears to do what is needed. But to ultimately get results and achieve our goals, we must also balance and value the importance of strong relationships. This point leads to the last tactic.

Don’t Fight Fear Alone

We need connection to others who can support us with wisdom and encouragement. Mutual support is the critical need of every warrior and every person who is fighting the battles of life. Engage with your key support team to help you courageously lean into the pain of your doubts and fears. As a leader, you also have the power to create this culture of support.

Fers and doubts are part of life and especially a big part of leadership.  Thankfully, we have ways to manage them. Lean into the pain of your fear and do the right thing—believe in yourself—I believe in you.

*Lee Ellis – As president of Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting and coaching company, Lee Ellis consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, human performance, and succession planning. His media appearances include interviews on CNN, CBS This Morning, C-SPAN, ABC World News, and Fox News Channel. A retired Air Force Colonel and former Vietnam POW, his latest book is entitled Engage with Honor: Building a Culture of Courageous Accountability. Learn more at





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