There’s a rising level of anxiety across the world. You can feel it and almost hear the fear bubbling at the surface, like a pot of boiling water that’s rattling the lid and is about to boil over. Unless we learn to manage this fear and turn it into something positive, something within our society will snap and we’ll find ourselves in the midst of an even bigger crisis. This might happen no matter what, but individually we can make a choice to either let the fear control us or we can acknowledge it, identify it, and harness that powerful energy for good.
Jill Bolte Taylor said, “Take responsibility for the energy you bring into a room” and Brené Brown in an interview with Marie Forleo reminds us to “contribute more than you criticize.” These are powerful words of wisdom and apply directly to fear. Even when we’re scared shitless, we have to own that emotion and try our best to find a solution to our fear rather than give into it.
When we give into fear, empathy is lost and it becomes all too easy to justify lashing out. We resort to bullying and shaming. We tear each other down instead of building each other up. We can learn so much from what we are afraid of, but only if we’re willing to open our hearts and take the time for empathy and understanding versus hate and exclusion.
How to cope with the fear
I’ve talked previously about the idea that we’re all connected. Remembering that each one of us is afraid can help us overcome that fear. We’re all human (remember that book Everyone Poops?) and reminding yourself of that fact can give you the courage to be a leader and to stand up for what you know is right.
Coping with our fear requires two deceivingly simple steps:
- Put your fear on the table
Before you can overcome fear, you have to acknowledge it and talk about it. As a leader, you should be able to both acknowledge your own fears and acknowledge the fears of others, without judgment, no matter how unfounded they may seem. In short, be a good listener and don’t trivialize someone else’s fear. The new CEO of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, openly acknowledged his fear as he stepped into the new leadership role:
“I have to tell you I am scared. I’ve been here at Expedia for so long that I’ve forgotten what life is like outside this place. But the times of greatest learning for me have been when I’ve been through big changes, or taken on new roles—you have to move out of your comfort zone and develop muscles that you didn’t know you had.”
- Transform that fear into something good
Turn the fear into a positive image of what could be. When we acknowledge our fears, we can turn them into opportunities for change and forward progress. If you find yourself held back by someone else’s fear, invite them to instead support a positive outcome. Focus on solutions and an opportunity to make something good happen rather than spending our energy on being scared.
Connect with your community
The Lakotan people believe that strings connect us to each person in our lives. These strings strengthen as we get to know one another better. When someone dies, the string is severed. When we move on from a relationship, the string weakens and eventually disappears. We can strengthen these ties by openly talking about our fears and coming up with solutions together. This openness allows you to create a more authentic connection to your community, and when we’re connected, it’s much harder for fear to take control.
Let’s channel our collective fear and anxiety into the good fight. Let’s use it to come up with creative solutions to climate change, social inequality, the refugee crisis, hunger, homelessness, and the other complex issues of our time that require our collaborative strength and experience. We have to face these fears together, with love and compassion. Will you join me?
I’d love to hear from you …
Is it possible to harness our fear for good? Do you think that our collective fear could be an opportunity for us to better understand each other across social and political boundaries? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Special offer for aspiring leaders:
Looking for one-on-one leadership consulting? I am now offering consulting services to clients who are seeking to achieve their greatest professional potential while affecting positive change for people and the planet. Contact me here with the subject line ‘Leader in the making.’