How to stare down your tigers and become a fearless leader

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By Elise Mitchell

“Are you fearless?”

I once had a journalist ask me this simple question. I wanted to answer, “Absolutely!” But I knew that despite my penchant for risk-taking — evidenced by a passion for entrepreneurship and motorcycling — I couldn’t lie. I wasn’t fearless. But I had learned to stare down some tigers. And facing my fears meant I was one step closer to overcoming them.

The key isn’t to avoid fear. It’s to recognize, attack and wrestle it to the ground. Sure, you’ll get scratched up. But you’ll also learn some valuable lessons in the process.

Leading fearlessly

I’ve had many sleepless nights during my 20-plus years as an entrepreneur. Would I lose clients or key employees? Was I going to fail? Was I missing out on family, friends, and hobbies? I knew worry and fear quite well. One of my biggest fears was losing control. Especially as our company grew, I wanted to ensure every possible chance of success. If I was controlling things, I felt better.

In motorcycling, losing control could lead to disaster. But if you hold on too tightly, you aren’t nimble enough to adapt to the bumps — and you certainly don’t enjoy the journey as much. That understanding helped me loosen my grip and empower others. Sometimes, control is good; sometimes, it will be your downfall. I understand and accept fear as a natural part of a leader’s journey. I’ve simply learned to lean into it to move past it.

These four steps will help you on your journey to overcoming your fears.

  1. Don’t fixate on problems — anticipate them

On a motorcycle, you must be ready to adjust to dangers — a pothole here, a large stone there. But if you focus only on the hazards, you’ll miss the scenery. Prepare, but not to the point of paralysis.

In business, it’s tempting to catastrophize, worrying about things that will probably never happen. And all that worry makes us more anxious. An intriguing study asked people whether they would rather receive a series of mild shocks over 15 minutes or one larger shock. The latter appealed to 70% of participants: Most people would rather take their lumps at once than wait for the other shoe to drop.

  1. Mourn failures, then move ahead

Linkagoal’s Fear Factor Index indicated people fear failure more than spiders, loneliness or the paranormal. In other words, we hate losing more than having a tarantula in our beds! The poll also found that the fear of failure stops nearly 50 percent of people from even attempting a goal.

You’re going to fail. The faster you can bounce back, the smarter and stronger you’ll be next time. Every loss is one step closer to a win.

  1. Take that shot in the dark

Social anxiety disorder affects about 15 million people in the US, and Linkagoal found that the fear of embarrassment holds 44% of people back from hitting incredible levels of success.

We all need to embrace the possibility of looking foolish to make it to the next level. Even if you feel you aren’t sure or prepared, follow your deepest instincts to give yourself a chance to snag the brass ring.

  1. Get rid of “head trash.”

Are you concerned you’ll disappoint others? Feel like you can’t lead? Suffer from imposter syndrome? That’s “head trash,” and it’s detrimental to achievement. It’s up to you to tap into your latent pluckiness and move forward confidently. Want a hint on how to give your internal voices the heave-ho? Repeatedly expose yourself to your fears until they subside.

At this stage, I’m as close to fearless as I’ve ever been. Do I still have moments that scare me? Absolutely; I just don’t give in. I ride into the fear like it’s a foggy road — I’m ready for whatever comes, but I’m definitely moving ahead.