Here’s the headline for this post: Once your fear has gotten you to mislabel it, it gets to have its way with you.
Now I’m going to try and back into that headline, starting with this premise: Being a leader means working with fear.
Leadership is almost never about doing what we are already reliably doing. Doing what we’re reliable to do doesn’t require much leadership, it generally requires management — managing the pieces on the chessboard to ensure we get to the desired outcome. Leadership is typically about transformation, while management is about efficiency, optimization, etc.
Anyhow, the point is that leadership, because it’s outside of what we already know, means stepping into the vast unknown, and in that uncharted territory all of the maps we have are useless. We’re venturing into the areas that may contain anything — new riches, danger, paradigms and strategies we could never have dreamed of, etc. The unknown is scary, and consequently, that means that being a leader is going to require you to dance with a lot of fear.
This is why leadership is so valuable right now, and why those willing to be in the practise of stepping into leadership are going to make something of themselves as things continue to evolve. COVID19 is providing us with a big, giant ball of scary unknown to be with. When all of the dust has settled, we’re going to see the fall of former leaders who were unwilling or unable to let go of what they already knew, and we’re going to see new leaders forged, who were willing to say yes to the dance.
Saying yes to your leadership in these moments (or any moments, really) is saying yes to a dance — a dance with fear. Leading means dancing with your own fear, regularly, and it also means you’re going to be dancing with others’ fear, and supporting them to do that same dance. Like any partnered dance, it’s much easier if I simply eradicate my partner, or pretend they aren’t there (stepping all over their toes and what not), but it’s not really the same dance, and what gets created is far less profound. Instead, we must partner with that fear.
The first step to dancing is that we have to say YES to the dance. We have to choose into something that will probably drive up some fear. If I sit at home, turn the TV on, and go about life as normal, there’s not a lot of fear for me to be with, and so there’s not much dancing to do. Not much leadership available either.
Saying YES to the dance is your first step. Once you’ve chosen into something that is worthy of your leadership, you’re going to be dancing with fear. The second step is enrolling other people to do the same — to say yes to the same thing you’re creating, and to have them willing to take part in this same dance.
Coaching is a really great example of this, where the first step is creating the vision of that dance with our clients: helping them see what might be possible in their lives, the art that they are capable of creating, and a result that would be worthy of their leadership. Then, they have to say YES to all of that, including the dance with their fear that this will include.
Leaders do the exact same thing, though it’s often a shared result that they are supporting other people to say YES to. (Eg, “Let’s all get together on a call and express what there is to express about this virus”, “Let’s get together and create a new conference virtually where we explore the power of touch”, etc.)
Fear’s job is to get you to sit on that couch, where the world as you know it will stay the same, and even if it doesn’t stay that way, it won’t really impact you.
Saying YES to the dance rarely looks like a simple question asked and then you nodding your head and walking forward. It can look that way, sometimes, but often it looks like getting caught on the fence. It’s scary for us to say yes to whatever we’re saying yes to, and so we tend to spend time sitting on the precipice.
At this point in the game, a leader’s job is to be in the conversation with you about your fear. What is it you’re afraid of? How else does that particular fear show up in your life? What are the strategies you’ve learned to use to avoid that fear, and how does that go for you? What does those strategies provide you, and what do they make impossible in your life?
The leader is not trying to convince you of anything, nor are they trying to pretend your fear isn’t there. The point is to take a really sober look at your fear — to acknowledge how it’s gone in the past, and to acknowledge how it might go differently here (and consequently, from the breakthrough that gets created, how it might differently forever onwards).
Sometimes, the fear is too great and so what there is to do is to simply say NO, thank you, but not today — I’m just too scared. This is a really courageous thing to do. It honours your fear as exactly what it is, and honours your gradient — the level to which you are currently willing to step out and in.
The problems start when fear manages to convince you that it is something other than fear. Your intuition, downloads from god, spirit animals or the universe, your gut, your hunch, or whatever else — these are all masks your fear can put on to give you a way out that sounds or looks different.
And when we choose out because we’ve labelled our fear as intuition (or whatever other word you choose), we eliminate our ability to continue to be at choice. We can no longer choose into something with the foresight and understanding that is going to mean entering into a dance with our fear (and consequently, will feel scary) — instead, we are perpetually at the effect of something we are calling our intuition (god/universe/hunch/etc.) and then left surprised when we feel the impact of dancing with our fear.
What do we say yes to, when we have mislabelled our fear as something else? We have to wait, we have to check in with our spirits or our hunches, and we have to hope that they line up. Do we feel the right way? Do we feel relieved or pressured?
Instead of simply being able to choose into something, knowing that it will feel uncomfortable at times, we end up needing to do a bunch of divining and dowsing and other complicated motions and gestures to check in with whatever we are now calling our fear. And when our fear inevitably shows up, we tend to be blindsided by it — after all, we were labelling it as something else, so we can only be so prepared for the experience when it arrives in our lap.
We are all being called forward to dance, and there is art to be made.
How does your fear fool you in this way? What mask do you think your fear might tend to masquerade under?
And what do you think would be possible in your life if you said YES to the dance, in the face of the masquerade?