Leadership is Facing Your Fears

“So let me assert my firm belief that we have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt

Ask people about their fears and you are likely to get a puzzled look in response.  Our culture does not embrace adults talking about their fears, (unless we are asking children about their fears).  It is something that we are supposed to grow out of as we grow older.  But fear is an entire category of emotions.  How are we supposed to grow out of one of the four primary emotions (happy, sad, mad, fear)  that we have access to as a human?  We can’t and we don’t.  The only thing that we seem to grow out of or away from,  is discussing our fears.   Fears can hold us back and keep us from facing adversity that can help us grow.  Examining our fears can provide us a window into what we need to do in order to be our best selves, the best leaders, the best teams, and the best companies.  By identifying your fears, you identify areas of great opportunity. Whether you are an executive fearing implementing a change, or a company afraid of taking a risk, if your fears are in control of your decisions, there may be consequences. Yes, you may indeed be safe from harm.  BUT you may also be safe from growing, learning, innovating, and leading.

The view from the zip line take off

The view from the zip line take off

One of my greatest fears is of heights.  Whether it is standing in tall buildings or flying in an airplane, I am very uncomfortable.  My heart starts to race, my palms sweat, my legs feel shaky and I want to scream.  Recently, I had the chance to face this fear. While on a trip to Whistler B.C.  I decided to try zip lining.  Zip lining involves putting on a climbing harness and clicking onto a pulley that slides along a cable which “zips” you from tree top to tree top roughly 100- 150 feet above the ground through a canyon, quickly.  It’s just you and some cloth hanging onto a steel cable while flying through the air.  The scenery was beautiful, although I did not notice at the time.  I was focusing on my heart beating hard and fast, while my stomach was doing flip flops. I was actually holding onto one of the tree trunks when the wind caused the tree and tree stand to sway.  I was near panic as it came closer to the time to “jump”.  When it was my turn, the guide asked me, “How do you feel?”  I responded, “Terrified.”  Then step by step I walked until I was flying down the line with no turning back, screaming the entire way.   This process continued throughout the afternoon.

By the last zip line, I started to calm down. Then, the guide said, “this is your last zip line of the day.  I encourage you to do something out of your comfort zone.”  Was he kidding?  This entire day was outside my comfort zone and now I was being asked to push the boundary again?  He offered that he would show us how to go upside down on the zip line and that he needed a volunteer to go first.  I thought to myself that since I had just stopped panicking, this would be a good time to challenge my story about my fear and volunteered to go upside down.  Just before I went, I asked the rest of the group to cheer me on for support and they did.  This time, I did not scream.  I embraced the entire experience and smiled the entire way. When I got to the other side, the second guide asked me how I felt.  “Great!”  I exclaimed.  Just three hours earlier, I was in deep fear, worried that I could not face my fear and would have to wait for the shuttle bus down the mountain.   I had contacted my deepest courage, acknowledged my feeling of terror, asked for support, and moved toward my fear not away from it.   I was no longer paralyzed by my fear of heights. I was relaxed on the shuttle ride back down the mountain, eyes wide open.  On the way up, I could not even look out the window.

I don’t think that my fear of heights has totally vanished and I do not intend to trivialize anybody’s  fears or imply that all fears are easy to get over.  That is up to you to decide.  I do know now that I do not fear my fear any more.  I acknowledge it, work with it and find courage to face it.  This experience of facing my fear did more for me than just provide a thrilling experience.  It gave me the the chance to challenge the story that I had carried around that I could never zip line because I’m scared of heights.   That story was holding me back. Once I had decided to go and took that final step, it was impossible to turn back and I was committed.  My only option was to focus on making this process work, by holding on, and dealing with the discomfort, by screaming.  I also learned, grew, found new courage inside of myself, and I had a lot of fun.

Some fears that I have heard leaders express include public speaking,  receiving feedback, giving hard feedback, handling conflict, disappointing people,  looking incompetent and many more. Here are some quick tips for addressing your fears. “S-A-T-S-U-N.”

1. Search: What are you afraid of?

2.  Acknowledge: What can you do to acknowledge this fear to yourself and get support from someone you trust?

3. Time: Take some time understanding the history. Did you learn this fear? How? Where?

4. Story: What story are you carrying around based on fear?  Is this story relevant? Useful?  How does it hold you back? How does it help you?

Facing my fears head on!

Facing my fears head on!

5. Useful:  Fear can also keep us from doing damage to ourselves and others.  Is there something in this fear that you can use?

6. Next: What small step can you take today to shift your relationship with this fear?  What step can you take that will make sure that you can’t turn back?

Fear can hold you back from reaching your goals in your work, your career, your company or your  life.  Do not fear fear.  Face your fears.  Lead your business, career and life!

Larysa Slobodian, MA,  L4 Leadership LLC


  1. R C November 12, 2009 at 9:08 pm #

    Hey Larysa,

    Great story…put a smile on my face.

  2. Larysa Slobodian November 13, 2009 at 12:18 pm #

    Thanks RC!

    Larysa Slobodian
  3. Johanna November 13, 2009 at 6:47 pm #

    You’re a stud, girl! Now get your zip-lined self back on an airplane and come visit!

  4. Larysa Slobodian November 14, 2009 at 3:55 pm #

    O.K. I’ll work on the flying thing next! How can I turn down an invite like that? Thanks!

    Larysa Slobodian
  5. Brian November 19, 2009 at 4:13 pm #

    When people think of the word “fear” it is often the extremes that first come to mind – such as the fear of plunging to your death, in your example!

    But, as you point out, I think there are those far subtler, “smaller” fears that invade our lives every day, and can accumulate over time to be just as crippling as the big fears.

    “If I make this decision or take this action, will my colleagues think less of me – or will I expose myself to painful criticism?”

    “Will this new situation force me into having to learn a new skill – one that I might not be successful in learning?”

    “If I’m late for this meeting, what will the client think?”

    “I afraid to talk about this with my spouse – because I bet we’ll end up arguing…”

    In some ways, I’ve found the “big” fears easier to face. When it comes to big fears, the consequences are usually pretty clear – and the decision more black and white. But those little fears – where the ramifications of an action or decision are murkier – those can be much harder to work through. And they can build up and become part of our daily routine.

    Perhaps it’s taking on the little fears – bit by bit – that can put us on the road to better and more easily tackling the big ones.

    Thanks for the article, Larysa – you always give me a great deal to think about!

    L4 Leadership
  6. Larysa Slobodian November 19, 2009 at 5:12 pm #

    Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comments Brian. Yes perhaps taking on little fears bit by bit helps us build our tolerance and courage for the bigger ones. Very nice.

    Larysa Slobodian

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