“Courage?!” That was the instantaneous response a senior executive gave me recently, when I asked her how she makes difficult decisions—before she launched into a series of logical decision-making steps that consider the marketplace, the competition, strategic priorities, available resources, etc.
To me, her first gut response stood head and shoulders above everything else she said, however valid and crucial those other considerations were for business. The necessity of courage gets right to the heart of why difficult decisions are, well, difficult to make. Having the courage to make tough calls amidst high stakes is a critical trait of a fearless leader in business and in life.
What are we afraid of?
Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been contemplating off and on what it means to be fearless—and to be a fearless leader in particular, since it’s part of my Divinely inspired intention for this year. Up until recently, I’ve gotten as far as concluding that being fearless doesn’t mean I don’t ever feel fear; rather, I don’t let fear stop me. Then came a series of synchronistic events, along with the above comment by that business leader about having courage to make tough decisions. These events catalyzed further contemplation about living and leading fearlessly.
Let me summarize my contemplation with the following sequence of questions and answers:
What’s behind our fear of making tough decisions or taking a stand on something that may not be popular? We’re afraid of being wrong—choosing the wrong course of action or being on the wrong side of a decision. We’re afraid of disappointing others. We’re afraid of failing. We’re afraid of looking incompetent. We’re afraid of standing in the minority or being alone.
What might happen if we disappointed, failed or appeared incompetent—if we were wrong? We could lose something really important to us—such as a job or a relationship—not to mention a battered self-esteem. We don’t want to experience the devastation from such a loss, so we’d better avoid that possibility at all costs.
What’s really going on? We’re deeply attached to the job, the relationship, the specific outcome we’ve convinced ourselves we must have to be ok—not even necessarily happy, but just ok. The fear of losing this symbol of “ok-ness” scares us into sitting on the proverbial fence, vacillating indecisively among options. The fear induced by the attachment causes us to shrink from our inner power and courage to take a stand—and be willing to live with the consequences.
I was so concerned about keeping my job that I forgot to do my job. (From the movie, “The American President“)
What if there’s nothing to lose?
Let’s consider a set of alternative questions:
What if nothing was truly ours to lose? What if that job wasn’t truly ours, but rather just “on loan” to us to fulfill a higher purpose? What if that relationship wasn’t ours, but rather just “on loan” to us to help us grow in a specific way?
What if any sense of ownership of anything was ultimately just an illusion, an ego construction to get us to believe we’d be safe if we could hang onto that job, that relationship or that specific outcome? If nothing was truly ours to lose, would taking a stand that might be wrong be as scary or as detrimental? Or might we feel empowered to make a call and take the chance that we could be wrong in our choice?
When we have nothing to lose, there’s no negative ramification for making a choice that may or may not objectively pan out. Can you imagine the freedom that comes with having nothing to lose? That’s what I’ve come to realize about living and leading fearlessly: To avoid becoming so attached to something or someone that the possibility of losing him/her/it breeds fear that blocks our inner wisdom from guiding us toward right action and causes us to shrink from innate courage.
Fearlessness = Non-attachment
Of course, non-attachment is far more easier said than done. However, I realize that if I could bring consciousness to any job without the fear-based need to hold onto it, I’d be firmly grounded in my inner wisdom and fully connected to my inner higher power. From that place, backed up by a genuine desire to serve, solid due diligence and thorough vetting of assumptions about the unknown, I’d be ready to summon the courage to make tough decisions. That’s what fearless leadership calls for.
Similarly, if I could remember that no one is ever truly mine, I’d have no fear of losing what isn’t mine to hang onto—now or ever. In turn, I’d be free to engage with an open heart, and lovingly ask for what I need and want in full integrity with my authentic self, all without the fear of being abandoned or rejected. That consciousness of having nothing to lose empowers living—and loving—fearlessly.
In essence, leading and living fearlessly comes from practicing non-attachment, the remembrance of having nothing to lose. Ultimately, nothing and no one in any area of this human life—personal and professional—is ever truly ours. Without true ownership, there’s absolutely nothing for us to lose. The more we can ground ourselves in this truth, the less we invite fear to stifle our innate power and courage to live the life we were born to lead.
With all that said, let me issue the following invitation to you: When faced with a decision, consider how fear plays a role in your process. More specifically, can you trace the fear to that of losing something or someone if you were to make the wrong choice? (Sometimes, that “someone” you’re afraid to lose is your ego construction of who you are, i.e., not the real you.) What if you considered for a moment that you have no true ownership of what you’re afraid to lose and what you may feel desperate to hang onto? How does that affect your perspective and decision-making process?
Before you leave here today, would you kindly share your thoughts? What does being fearless mean to you? How do you lead fearlessly in your personal and/or professional life?
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