Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. During the summer, I focus on topics off the beaten leader trail. One of them is the concept of acknowledging and overcoming fear. With the airshow happening at our local Air Force Base, many of our local media have the opportunity to fly with the Thunderbirds in an exciting once-in-a-lifetime flight, but certainly tinged with fear, pulling 9 Gs and accomplishing loops and the like. More than a routine airline flight, the fear and anxiety of this red-white-and-blue jet ride will ensure the lifetime moment will never fade. Similarly, my son recently completed five parachute jumps at the Air Force Academy. It was an exhilarating and challenging experience, hanging out of a plane door traveling 120 mph and then simply letting go into free space. For Mark, earning his wings was a momentous experience, that when he faces other challenges, he will bench off this accomplishment giving him the confidence to press forward.
Camille Preston in an October 2014 Fortune article “Why Fear Makes You a Better Leader,” points out: “Adversity can make us stronger people and better leaders. In fact, the Center for Creative Leadership reports that over 66% of leadership capabilities are forged through challenges.” This is the whole premise behind physical fitness. Our bodies improve based on the measured stress we put on them whether from cardio, weightlifting or the exercise of our choice. The same is true for our mental capacity, challenging ourselves through educational classes, reading or other mental broadening activities.
As leaders, pushing the envelope and putting ourselves in uncomfortable if not fearful situations is the balance to grow as leaders. Following my military career, I opted to run a nonprofit – Leadership Spokane – which was certainly a new if not fearful experience. What if I was not able to raise the funds necessary to keep the program going? Questions like these haunted me my first year for fear of letting my staff and board down. Fortunately, hard work and the collaboration of a lot of our supporters made the first year a success. From that first year, we gained the confidence to try new efforts, which have propelled us even higher in success and expertise.
Preston writes: “In my work with leaders, I often use the image of a donut to help describe the way we live and learn. Life inside the donut hole represents our comfort zone. That’s where life is safe, familiar, comfortable, and potentially a little boring. Conversely, life on the donut reflects our learning zone. This is where we grow, stretch and experiment. This is where we feel alive, inspired and awake. This is where most leaders live, constantly learning, growing and developing. Now, life on the edge of the donut is the outer edge of our learning zone. This is terror’s edge, and most people — even good leaders — never get past it.”
As mentioned in previous blogs, life is a cycle with birth, growth, maturation and decline. Growth is the most dynamic of cycles but comes at risk, challenge and often a little fear. As leaders, our mandate remains to grow the organization, which happens on the edges of the donut.
Introducing a little fear into our life without causing paralysis and harm is where balance and judgment come in to play. The older I have become, the more safe I seem to play it as I cherish each and every day of life more and more. But, remembering Tim McGraw’s country song Live Like You Are Dying, starkly reminds me to keep on edge in leadership. For example, in the past year, I have stood up with a new organization helping vets and joined another one helping with PTSD. Both are not sure bets but they do challenge me to grow and think out of the box as a leader.
Preston agrees: “When we take action in the face of adversity, when we move toward something that scares the living daylights out of us, when we move out of our comfort zone and past our terror’s edge, we can grow and develop in ways we never imagined.” My son jumped out of a perfectly good plane, Kris Crocker of KXLY did a loop in a jet. Both will be better for it…where can you trod off the beaten path and be better for it? Without a doubt, leaders have fear and with it, they become fearless
If you want to conquer fear, don't sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. ~ Dale Carnegie