What fears hold you back from leadership? Fear of failure, of public speaking, of success, of criticism, of power, of the workload?
There are 101 different strategies for dealing with fear. You can face it, combat it, overcome it, transform it, confront it – burying it is probably not a good idea. Some strategies are more effective than others (and different people will find different strategies more effective).
I think the fears listed above point to two underlying factors – doubts in our ability and doubts of how our leadership will be received. These doubts can easily stop us from exercising our leadership potential. If we believe that God has placed us in a position to influence others and display leadership, and then we allow fear to stop us from moving forward in that leadership, then we don’t fully trust in the success of his plan for us.
Fear is natural; everyone has moments of doubt. As Michael Harvey told TWR-UK, when God calls us into leadership it will be accompanied by fear because it’s a place we’ve not been to before. I’m always scared the first time I do something – the first time I preached, the first time I was on TWR-UK, the first time I went to Uganda, the first time I changed jobs. But the second time I did these things was not nearly as frightening as I knew what to expect and I knew I could do it. Some of these things I now even look forward to because I am able to see the opportunities, not just the risks. But I never would have reached that place of comfort and familiarity if I had allowed my fear to stop me from doing those things the first time.
We turn fear into an identity. Not just ‘I feel fear’ but ‘I am fearful’. In creating such an integral association between the feeling and our very identity, we accept that fear has taken over. This is when fear becomes a problem – when it has become debilitating, stopping you from acting.
In her TED talk, novelist Karen Thompson Walker suggests that we should think of fears as stories. Essentially, fear is creating a story of what could go wrong and then allowing that story to become the dominant narrative. You can no longer picture the story of what could go right.
Moses had huge doubts about returning to Egypt in Exodus 3. He had left under the cloud of murder. He didn’t think he was good enough to lead his people, or that the Israelites would want him. He must have felt fear at the thought of the reaction of the Egyptian royal family who had raised him.
Moses could see all the ways his return to Egypt could go wrong. And God didn’t say that his fears were unjustified. He didn’t say that it would all go perfectly. But God told him “I will be with you”; “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord…has sent me to you’.” And after accepting his identity as Christ’s messenger and trusting in God’s plan for him, Moses went to Egypt and led the Israelites out of captivity.
The more trust you have in God’s plan, the less likely you are to let fears take over. You’ll probably still feel fear, at least at first, but it will not stop you from practicing leadership. So when you feel fear beginning to take over, stop for a moment and remember why you took this leadership role. Remember that God is with you, always.
This article has been produced in collaboration with TWR-UK as part of the Leadership Forum series. Part 2, ‘Identity’, can be read here. You can listen to the episode on ‘Fear’ with Michael Harvey here.