Leadership and Fearleadership-and-fear

What are you afraid of?

Criticism? Failure? Success? Losing face? Are you afraid of burning some political capital on the wrong thing or trying to push something new and then not going well? Are you afraid that putting forth the effort will mean more work for you? And by the way, you already work hard enough! Are you afraid of encountering resistance? Are you afraid that there will be covert pushback, that someone will make your life uncomfortable due to what you chose to do, not do, or initiate that was contrary to what they desired? What are you afraid of?

It’s hard to put yourself out there when you think you will fail or when you feel like you will be the victim of a “sneak attack” when you least expect it.

After a while some leaders have been the victim of so many nicks and cuts and bruises from getting knocked down that you are not sure what to do. Fear may feel like paranoia and your spouse may think you’ve been watching too many conspiracy theory movies. But you know how this movie ends. You initiate “A.” Your people respond with “B.” “A” doesn’t get done, in fact it is criticized and you along with it. Life is miserable. Why would you ever want to risk anything again? Your goal is not to make people angry. So you revert to the safe behaviors that will get you by for that week or that day or that hour. Then when someone asks you what you think or what you want to do you honestly just don’t know. Call it fear or call it just being stuck.

It’s a lonely way to lead. It is a frustrating and exhausting and discouraging way to lead.

How can you lead amidst fear and criticism and resistance? There are a few important items to remember.

  1. Remember whose you are. You belong to Jesus. You are not valuable because of what you do. You are valuable because of who He is. He loves you! Nothing will change that! Rest in that grace and find your identity in Him rather than what you do or don’t do or what people think or say about you.
  2. In that freedom of your identity in Christ, know that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). A common way of understanding this is, with Christ loving you, what’s the worst that can happen? Or in the words of my former senior pastor, “out love them!”
  3. “Be wise as a serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt 10:16). This means you don’t have to be a bull in a china shop. Just because Jesus loves you and your identity is in Him doesn’t mean you can now throw your weight around or be abusive. Wisdom does not just “damn the torpedoes.” Another way of putting it is as Peter says, “not lording it over those entrusted to you” (1 Peter 5:3) which leads us to the next one.
  4. “…being an example to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3). Be an example not only in terms of your spiritual life of prayer and worship and language and demeanor but also your visible behavior and choices. They teach what you as a leader believe is the most important initiative for your ministry. Model what you want them to do. Proper goals and priorities are often caught more than they are taught. If it is evangelism, live as an evangelist and tell the stories. If it is serving the community as salt and light for Christ then do it yourself first. Bring one other person next. Invite others to participate as interest grows. And no, you don’t have to ask permission. Model it first as an example.
  5. As you have prioritized what is most important in your own mind, through prayer and the study of God’s Word, and as you have modeled those behaviors, start a conversation with the wider church. Once again, you don’t need to ask the council or elders for permission. That will just set up a lot of often wasted dialogue where sides are created and people burn a lot of energy and emotion conjuring up a lot of arguments pro and con. Rather start a wider conversation. You might be surprised what you hear as people think and process.
  6. Ask questions of people. Clarify assumptions. Facilitate the conversation without lecturing. Innocently put it out there. Are we afraid of this new ministry initiative? Why? Why not?
  7. Advocate a “trial balloon” or “pilot project.” People are often resistant to new ideas because of their own fears. Conduct a test for the new initiative. Afterward invite a period of reflection and dialogue for feedback and learning.

Taken together a leader can inch their way out of being stuck and live more intentionally into the freedom that is theirs in Christ.

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Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, scottgress@me.com or scottgress.com

"Helping leaders be more productive - less controlling"


Leadership and Fear

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