Leading isn’t always easy and good leaders often have to make tough choices and deal with difficult situations. One of the most difficult battles though, can be the one within. The one taking place beneath the skin, in the beating heart, the gut feelings, emotions and thoughts of the leader. In order to be effective leaders have to learn to face themselves over time. To confront their inner selves. The parts of themselves that fear, that tell them they aren’t good enough, that doubt, that worry, that cringe. These are parts that people often don’t see, because leaders are taught often to not show vulnerability, or to only do so strategically, and sometimes there is good reason for this, as we are designed to transmit emotions, so it is easy to transmit anxiety for example. Blame your mirror neurons the next time you pick up on the feelings of those around you, but I digress.
While the outward signs and behavior may appear calm, the inner self may be adrift in a sea of emotions and this is where good leaders, effective leaders, learn to navigate their inner sea. Learning to face fear and anxiety is a key task for leaders. It strengthens the neural circuitry associated with the “approach” system of the brain while weakening the connections of the avoidance circuitry. Imagine forming deeper connections over time to be able to move towards goals, visions and values, while not falling victim to fears, anxieties and worries, that’s what the habit of facing fear and anxiety does when practiced consistently. But start small. People often overwhelm themselves, thinking they must face their largest fears immediately. It’s enough to start small and make consistent effort, to strengthen your neural connections.
The other part of this that can be tough is that while the metaphor of doing battle with fear is often used, it is, frankly, a bad description. Fear is a natural human emotion, it’s not something you have to do battle with, doing battle with it, while it can work at times, wastes a great deal of energy. A strategy that works better and has a great deal of research behind it, is to observe and feel your emotions, focus on your valued outcome and take action towards your values while feeling whatever it is that you feel. This builds circuity related to having any feeling and still moving forward towards what is valued in life. This is a highly prized quality for leaders. No matter the feeling, move forward toward your valued goals and what creates meaning in your life, whether it is a leadership outcome or general life goal. Practicing meditation, especially Mindfulness meditation, is a particularly useful tool for developing this capacity, but that’s a subject for another entry. Click here for a link to a website about Mindfulness. Leadership and fear, embrace and face it, and be a better leader.