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Fear In Leadership And Decision Making

Fear can be a powerful influence on decision-making for leaders. When leaders are able to manage fear, they’ll be able to make more effective decisions that will benefit their organisations in the long run.


As a leader, fear is a natural and often unavoidable emotion that can impact decision-making.

Fear can stem from a variety of sources, such as the fear of failure, the fear of disappointing others, or the fear of the unknown, which can cloud our judgment and cause us to make decisions that are not in the best interest of our organisations. While fear can be a powerful motivator, it can also lead to poor decision-making that can negatively impact both the leader and the organisation. It's important to understand how fear influences our decisions and learn how to manage it effectively.

What some studies say about fear

"People who are fearful tend to make overly conservative decisions, and they tend to weigh potential losses more heavily than potential gains." This means that when leaders are fearful, they may be less likely to take risks or make decisions that could lead to growth and innovation. ~ Study by Harvard Business Review.

60% of CEOs are concerned about the impact of geopolitical uncertainty and other external factors on their business. This fear can lead to conservative decision-making, which can hinder growth and innovation. ~ Survey conducted by PwC.

Nearly two-thirds of executives surveyed said that fear had a significant impact on their decision-making process. This fear can manifest itself in various ways, such as avoiding risks, over-analysing decisions, or delaying decisions altogether. ~ Study by McKinsey & Company.

What some leaders say

Fear can lead to a lack of confidence in decision-making. As former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." This quote highlights the idea that fear can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing leaders to doubt themselves and their decisions.

Furthermore, fear can also lead to a lack of action. As American author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said, "Fear has two meanings – forget everything and run or face everything and rise." Fear can either motivate us to take action, or it can paralyse us and prevent us from making any decisions at all. As leaders, we must be aware of this and take steps to manage our fear effectively.

How can leaders manage fear

Fear can cause leaders to make decisions based on short-term thinking rather than long-term planning. This can lead to decisions that provide quick wins but don't necessarily serve the organisation's best interests in the long run. Below are some tips on how leaders can manage fear when making decisions.

Tip #1: Acknowledge your fear

The first step in managing fear is to acknowledge it. As American author and pastor John C. Maxwell once said, "Leadership is not about being in charge. It's about taking care of those in your charge." Admitting to yourself and your team that you are feeling fearful is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of strength.

Tip #2: Identify the source of your fear

Understanding what is causing your fear can help you address it. Are you afraid of failure? Are you worried about what others will think? John C. Maxwell said, "The greatest mistake we make is living in constant fear that we will make one." Once you identify the source of your fear, you can begin to develop a plan to manage it.

Tip #3: Reframe your thinking

Instead of focusing on what could go wrong, focus on what could go right. As business magnate Richard Branson once said, "You don't learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over." Embrace the possibility of failure as a learning opportunity and a necessary step on the path to success.

Tip #4: Focus on the bigger picture

Jim Collins, a leadership author said, "Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice." By focusing on the long-term goals and vision of the organisation, leaders can make decisions that will benefit the organisation in the long run, rather than just providing short-term gains. Fear can lead to narrow thinking, so it's essential to seek out different perspectives to avoid being trapped in a negative thought cycle.

Tip #5: Seek support

Don't be afraid to seek support from others. Whether it's a mentor, colleague, or friend, talking through your fears with someone you trust can help you gain a fresh perspective and develop a plan to move forward. Simon Sinek, a leadership guru said, "It's not the leader's job to be the smartest person in the room. It's the leader's job to create the room for smart people." Seeking out the advice and perspectives of others can help leaders make more informed decisions and overcome their fears.

Tip #6: Take calculated risks

Avoiding risks altogether can be just as damaging as taking unnecessary risks. Leaders should consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of taking a risk and weigh them against each other to determine whether the risk is worth taking. By carefully weighing the potential outcomes and being prepared for any potential consequences, leaders can take risks that lead to growth and innovation without putting their business in jeopardy.

Tip #7: Practice self-care

Fear can be exhausting and overwhelming, so it's crucial for leaders to take care of themselves. It's essential to prioritise self-care to ensure you have the energy, focus, and resilience necessary to navigate the challenges that come with your role. Fear and stress are common experiences for many leaders, and without proper self-care practices, these feelings can quickly become overwhelming and lead to burnout. By making time for activities that reduce stress and increase positivity, such as exercise or spending time with loved ones, leaders can recharge and approach their roles with greater energy, focus, and resilience.


Fear can be a powerful influence on decision-making for leaders. By following some of the tips provided above, leaders can manage fear and make more effective decisions that will benefit their organisations in the long run.

"Leadership is not about being fearless. It's about taking action despite the fear."~ John C. Maxwell


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