Courageous Leadership in A Time of Fear: Part 1



Fear: how to live with it and lead through it has been a theme of my coaching sessions in recent weeks. In my home life too, with each cancelled event and stricter guideline bringing the seriousness of the global situation a little closer to our door. A particular ‘low-light’ was my 12-year-old son appearing at my side as I watched the TV news footage showing a large warehouse-type structure being hastily erected near London. “What’s a mortuary?” he asked.

Now is the time for calm, clear-sighted, decisive leadership balancing commercial needs with compassion. There is huge pressure on leaders to show strength and conviction. In my experience, this pressure is never stronger than the burden of invulnerability that leaders put on themselves. “I have to be strong, I can’t show any fear”, a CEO said to me last week.


Yet, leaders, are human too. As fearful for their families, friends, livelihoods and the future as the next person. To pretend to be fearless at the moment would be the height of inauthenticity. More than one of my client leaders has confided their urge to ‘pack up and run’ recently.


The model of leadership that demands fearlessness is outdated. Humans are a complex system of physical and emotional, hormonal and neurological responses to threat. Fear and our response to it are critical to the survival of our species. The absence of fear is the absence of humanity.

In these acutely fear-filled times, let’s redefine Courageous Leadership.


Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is feeling fear and bravely doing what is needed.


Courageous Leadership means acknowledging your fears and bravely speaking out, taking the decisions and instigating the action that you know to be right.


Courageous Leaders are daring. They dare to be wrong. They dare to ask the difficult question or voice an unpopular opinion. They dare to disrupt the narrative, when they believe there is a better way. They dare to take the decisions that are needed and face the consequences of their actions – both intended and unintended - with courage.

In this time of fear, when the pressure on anyone in a position of leadership is profound:


1. Be kind to yourself: It is not a weakness or a failing to be fearful. It is a sign of your humanity.

  • Take a few deep breaths and acknowledge the fearful thoughts in your mind and the feelings in your body.

  • Acknowledge that your ancient systems are working. Your body is reacting to a threat, readying itself for action.

  • Show your mind and body that right now, in this moment, everything is ok. Take a walk, even just around your home, breathing steadily and calming. Music, exercise, fresh air or fun with your family will release the tension and steady you.

2. Be courageous in your leadership: Own your fears and do what you know to be right and necessary.

  • Know that you can feel the urge to play safe, to stay small and that you can dare to lead the way

  • Show empathy for the people around you – including the people whose job it is to lead you. We are all feeling vulnerable right now.

  • Make the ‘future you’ proud. Ask yourself ‘What is needed now? How can I lead the way?’. Take the action that you will regard with pride in years to come, when this time is history.

Come to the Edge

by Christopher Logue

Come to the edge.

We might fall.

Come to the edge.

It’s too high!

COME TO THE EDGE!

And they came,

And he pushed,

And they flew.

In Part 2. of this article on Courageous Leadership I will be describe an ancient, yet little known, way to understand our fears and lead with greater courage. I hope this will support your leadership in these challenging times.


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© 2020 Sally Netherwood

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