The not-so-fearless Leader

With our growing love of all things extreme − from sports to makeovers, the idea of the “fearless leader” has become part of our pop culture dialect. I mean, who wouldn’t want to follow someone who isn’t afraid of anything? Right?

Well, not me.

We’ve generally come to think of fear as bad. Like most things, that is true when taken to the extreme (there’s that word again). But fear is part of who we are, fabricated into our DNA. It’s one of the many survival instincts nature gave us. It’s our internal alarm system, warning us of possible dangers and (hopefully) allowing us to respond.

Still, we are increasingly told that being fearless is a requirement when we are in a leadership role and that we should only follow those who lead without fear.


In early January, Inc Magazine published an interesting piece on its web site titled “Are You a Fearless Leader? 3 Questions.”  Inc interviews Mike Staver, author of the book Leadership Isn’t for  Cowards. The interesting thing is that neither the article nor the book ever makes the case for so-called “fearless” leadership. What Staver talks about is courage, which he describes as “the willingness to face what needs to be faced and to do what needs to be done.”

Being courageous does not mean being fearless. When people who have done truly heroic things in the face of danger are interviewed, they almost never talk about acting without fear. The civil rights activists who marched toward the menacing dogs, outstretched night sticks, and fire hoses ready to blast volleys of water. The soldiers who face down enemy combatants on the front lines. The police officers who run toward the gunfire. The firefighters who rush into burning buildings. None of them act without fear; they learn to face what needs to be faced and do what needs to be done.

It might seem odd that I would write my first post about fear, but it is something I am facing as I embark on a new period in my life. Thirteen months ago, my 24-year career with The Associated Press ended. In those nearly two and a half decades, I had the chance to work with some of the best journalists in the world − learning from them and working alongside them. In the second half of my AP career, I had the chance to recruit, hire, train, mentor, and coach some people who are now exceptional journalists. I helped some talented people become better, stronger leaders and managers. I helped make some processes better. When I left the building for the last time I knew that nothing could change two facts: that I had orchestrated and facilitated lasting constructive changes; and The Associated Press was better in many ways because of me.

The AP gave me a place to go every day with an office, colleagues, and responsibilities. It allowed me to be a part of something. It also provided a steady income.

Starting my own business is scary. But I told myself a long time ago that I had to take the advice I was dispensing to the people I was training and coaching in the workplace.  Some fears can cause more caution than needed, and avoiding something just because it’s scary reinforces a fear and keeps it strong.

So, today I am facing what needs to faced and doing what needs to be done. I’m officially launching Robert Naylor Coaching and Consulting, LLC. This gives me a chance to combine some of my passions − especially working with other people − and make a difference in some new ways. Yes, I’m scared. But I plan to turn my fear into action and I know plenty of you out there will join me on the journey and help make it a successful one.

© 2013 Robert Naylor Coaching and Consulting, LLC

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