Leadership: Facing Down Fear

By Lisa Earle McLeod

How to quiet fear and step into the boldest version of you 

In the last several months, many have faced (and continue to face) an unprecedented level of ‘unknown.’ Ambiguity can give rise to our deepest insecurities, and left unchecked, has the potential to fill us with fear.

Being afraid is natural. But when you let fear take over, the world misses out on the bravest and brightest version of you. And that’s no good for anyone. Here are three tips to help you quell the fear and step into bold action:

No. 1: Disrupt negative thought cycles in their tracks 

If you’re about to give a big presentation, pitch an idea, or do something courageous, the onslaught of “what ifs” will have no problem keeping you awake at night. Sure, we have to assess potential risk. The challenge is, we tend to default to the negative “what ifs” when it comes to being vulnerable and putting ourselves out there. The potential of shame is more initially jarring than the upside.

If you find yourself starting to think “what if it goes terribly and they hate it,” interrupt that thought cycle, and challenge your brain to think “what if it goes awesome and everyone loves it?” Pointing your brain towards the payoff (instead of the risk) helps you be more confident and courageous before bold action.

No. 2: Understand your body

When you’re afraid, your amygdala (aka lizard brain) goes into overdrive protection mode. You become hyper alert, your heart rate rises, your pupils dilate, and unfortunately, your critical thinking goes out the window. While your lizard brain does have your best interest of survival at heart, it’s not always the most holistic, strategic counsel. The lizard brain has a hard time determining a threat to your life and a threat to your ego.

When you understand why your body is reacting to fear the way it is, it’s easier to become objective in the face of it. When you recognize an oncoming wave of fear, ask yourself, is this my lizard brain thinking?

Take a step back, inhale a big deep breath, and remove yourself from that fight or flight brain space by breathing, moving your body, and practicing mindfulness.

No. 3: Don’t take yourself too seriously

Try to remember a time when you said or did something embarrassing. Is your skin crawling now? Ok, now, try to remember a time when someone else said or did something embarrassing…harder to recall? You likely can’t think of times that people misspoke during a meeting, made a crucial typo, or even spilled their coffee.

High performers are their own toughest critics. When you start to feel anxious, remind yourself, you’re likely the only one looking at your words and actions through the microscope of judgement. People make mistakes, most other people don’t remember or even notice those mistakes, and life moves on.

Stepping into the murky waters of growth and vulnerability can be scary. It’s also incredibly courageous. 

Lisa Earle McLeod is a leading authority on sales leadership and the author of four provocative books including the bestseller, “Selling with Noble Purpose.” Companies like Apple, Kimberly-Clark and Pfizer hire her to help them create passionate, purpose-driven sales organization. Her NSP is to help leaders drive revenue and do work that makes them proud.