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3 Reasons Why Leaders Need to Face Their Fear

Self-awareness is the foundation of all aspects of emotional intelligence (EQ). Leaders (and their teams) benefit when the leader is able to not only recognize their emotions but determine how to respond to them. Managing your reactions allows you to stay in control and do the work that needs to get done, instead of being held hostage by what you’re experiencing internally.

Some of my clients note that their self-regulation scores are higher than their self-awareness. How is that possible? Simple – you are able to manage your responses when you recognize what emotions you are having. The key is that you only regulate when you notice your emotions. The challenge is that you don’t notice very often and you can’t use your skill of self-regulation if you don’t realize you need to use it. Increasing your self-awareness will increase how often you can successfully self-regulate.

Self-regulation is helpful in interpersonal interactions and when leading a team, but it’s also important for taking business risks and pushing past your own internal limits. Understanding our emotions includes recognizing when we’re anxious, nervous, or scared about doing something. Our self-awareness helps us notice this reaction and self-regulation empowers us to figure out what we’re going to do about that anxious fear factor.

Great leaders are intentional about understanding their fears, and here’s why:

1 – Fear Distorts Reality

I’ve been thinking about launching a course for two years now. Why haven’t I done it? Because fear has gotten in my way. Fear convinces us certain things are true when they simply are not. It changes our outlook by convincing us that potential negative outcomes are inevitable. We might even catastrophize the situation – exaggerating the negatives while dismissing the positives.

When we give in to fear, we are no longer able to accurately prioritize and problem-solve. We find reasons and excuses not to do the thing we know deep down we should be doing. Self-regulation in this context can help us put our fear in perspective, to recognize it is a valid and emotional response, but not the full story. The discomfort we feel in fear isn’t necessarily negative – growth is oftentimes uncomfortable, and that’s a good thing!

2 – Fear Limits Us

I had this idea for a course, but fear kept me from doing anything, from moving forward. Fear ultimately fuels our limiting beliefs and keeps us from making progress. Not only does fear keep us from actualizing our dreams and making meaningful progress on our biggest goals, but it stifles our leadership.

A recent Udemy report revealed that 88% of people consider emotional intelligence a very important leadership quality. According to Harvard Business Review, being aware of your anxious emotions and sharing them productively with your team can build empathy between leaders and employees while encouraging others to open up as well. When your team as a whole can recontextualize and overcome their fear, this boosts morale and performance on an organizational level.

Ultimately, leadership is about challenging the process and making a change. Even though that can be frightening, that’s why it’s important to do it! By recognizing and responding to my fear, I’ve finally been able to launch this program with thoughtful expertise in order to make a change I know is needed in our organizations.

3 – Fear Holds Others Back

Unchecked fear doesn’t just hold you back; it holds others back as well. When you let fear keep you from making a change you know is needed, that lack of change impacts others! It’s really not fair to keep this information to yourself.

Additionally, squashing your own ideas sends a message to others that their ideas shouldn’t be explored either. When leaders take risks, their people are more likely to dream big and think creatively, which ultimately improves performance and problem-solving in the workplace. By being transparent about your fears and then regulating them, you also teach others how to better manage their own emotions. This element of leadership is crucial to the long-term success of your business and your people.

The truth is, emotions, like fear, drive job performance, turnover rates, and customer satisfaction. When we ignore these emotions or let them sit in the driver’s seat, we undermine our organization’s potential. As Steve Farber, founder of the Extreme Leadership Institute, said, “Find the fear, face it, leverage it, and share it with the group. Now you’re living up to the title of ‘leader.’”


People First, Amy Lafko

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About Amy Lafko

As a Physical Therapist, Amy spent years in school learning best practices for patient care and how to put the patient first. Like so many technically skilled clinicians, she advanced to a leadership role. Spending 20+ years in operational leadership, she had an epiphany: Putting the customer first isn’t the path to success or fulfillment. Rather, the most successful organizations and practices put their people first – and exceptional customer care, profitability, and effectiveness naturally followed.