A question of courage


I never fully understood the negative impact of fear in the workplace until I had left it and could look at it as an “outsider”. I write about it often now because when the doors are closed and I’m in conversations with even the best leaders, I hear them speak of what they cannot do. We dig deeper and find that fear is holding them back.

So often it’s clear as we talk that these fears are generally based on assumptions and the presumed negative consequences of taking action. When they realize there isn’t truth to what’s driving their fear, they can move ahead and take action on those things that have a profound impact on their ability to lead in the best way.

Fear is a big (negative) driver in organizations. It lurks quietly behind other emotions and unless you are vigilant and can stifle your ability to lead well. Because so many of the things that cause fear at work don’t shout out at you to notice them, they may be overlooked until it’s too late. When fear is overlooked or dismissed it can often snowball into failure for a leader. Don’t let that happen. Make sure that you are aware of your fears and that you don’t dismiss them.

If you feel personal resistance, reluctance, or even anger about taking action – lean into these emotions! Consider what they may cost you and your organization if they keep you from taking action. Ask yourself:

  • Is it fear that I feel?
  • What is driving my fear?
  • What assumptions am I making about what might occur if I take action? Are they true?
  • How might I overcome my fear?
  • What’s the worst that could happen if I take action?
  • What’s the best that could happen if I take action?

If you read my posts regularly, I know that you are interested – if not working hard – to be a great leader. So the most important question you can ask yourself when fear keeps you from taking action is:

  • Is it the right thing to do?

If you are a leader who has a solid value system in place and you answer “yes” to this question, fear becomes a non-issue. Miraculously, you are called to step into that fear in order to do what is right and to take action for the greater good.

“Is it the right thing to do?” is THE question to ask yourself when you realize that fear prevents you from taking action.

Whenever you feel resistance, reluctance or anger try asking yourself this set of questions and focus in on the final one. Courage will follow!


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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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