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7 Unconscious Leadership Fears That Keep You Small

Which keep you small?

fears keeping you small

Fears keeping you small


All leaders have fears.  However, not all your fears are created equal.

Some may manifest as low level anxieties.  Some are life paralyzing phobias.  Some may be triggered only by certain events – like fear of public speaking.  Others may be life-long fears.

Then there are the “big guns.”  These are the core unconscious leadership  fears from which all other fears come.  They override every aspect of your being.

In this article you will learn 7 unconscious leadership fears that keep you small.  First, it’s important to understand the nature of fear.


3 Truths About Fear Every Leader Needs to Know

1.     Fear is indestructible. 

Your brain is wired for fear. It is essential for your physical survival.  You want fear to send you signals when you are in danger, in an unsafe situation or about to make a high stakes mistake. Fear is your friend in those circumstances.

2.     Fear comes from a mental construct. 

Fear is a byproduct of your thoughts.  Your fear thoughts are mental constructs – meaning they have no basis in reality. As the saying goes, fear is “false evidence appearing real.”

The emotion of fear is real.  The content of your fear — your thoughts — is not real.  In your mind, though, you believe that your fear thoughts are reality.

To free yourself of such fear, you need to dislodge the mental constructs which drive fear.  Fear thoughts are of your own making and they can be unmade.

3.     Fearlessness does not exist.

Are you a leader that fantasizes about the day when you will be free of all fear?

Guess what?  It’s not going to happen.  Buying into the belief of fearlessness is a trap.  It’s an impossible goal to reach!  Even those who have achieved extraordinary feats have fear.

Your goal should not be to eliminate all fear.  Rather it should be, as one author wrote, to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Below are 7 core unconscious leadership fears you want to know about.  They are hijacking your leadership success and potential.


7 Unconscious Leadership Fears That Keep You Small

As a leader, you will be plagued by thousands of fears in your role.  You will have surface fears – such as fear of public speaking or holding employees accountable.

Then there are the deep unconscious leadership fears that enslave you until you break free.

1.     Fear of fear itself

Being a leader is demanding, high stakes work.  It stretches every ounce of your being.  It tests your strength of courage, perseverance and resilience.

The demands can be so great and the fear so paralyzing that the only way of getting relief is to put your head in the sand and pretend fear does not exist.  In those circumstances, your dominating fear is of fear itself.

Fear of fear itselfIn the short term, pretending you have no fear to move forward with your goals and actions can actually be a healthy choice.

In the long term, however, the fears you are avoiding will sabotage your every attempt to play a bigger leadership game.

2.     Fear of (owning your) power

All leaders are powerful yet few know how powerful they really are.  True personal power (or lack of it) determines whether you show up on the cause or effects side of your outcomes equation.

Being at the effects side means you believe that things happen to you.  That you have little or no control on your outcomes.

When you own your leadership power, you believe that …

You are at cause for all the results in your life.

If you fear power, it is because you are conflicted about it.  You have negative associations or beliefs about what power means.

The truth is that you can’t fully contribute your leadership gifts and talents if you fear owning your own leadership power.

3.     Fear of “being found out”

Within every person, there are 3 selves — a Pretend Self, a Feared Self and an Authentic Self.  Your Pretend Self  is that part of you that feels a need to hide behind an imaginary mask.

You don’t want others to know that you feel inadequate in your leadership role.  You don’t feel as though you’re smart enough, experienced enough, confident enough (fill in the blank) to be in your leadership role.

You take on other personas out of fear of being “found out.”  You put on a strong face – pretending to have it all together – when deep inside you feel like a fraud.

When you pretend to be someone you are not, you can never be your authentic powerful self.

4.     Fear of sharing your power

The world of leadership is filled with paradoxes.  One of those paradoxes is about power.

To be an exceptional leader, you must own your personal power (as addressed in #2).  Doing so allows you to take charge of your own individual outcomes and be an example to others.

However, once a leader owns their power, he/she tends to hoard it – such as making all the decisions, resolving all conflicts, leading all meetings, etc.  You hoard power because you fear loss of importance and lack of control if you share it.

Yet for a company to flourish, power must be distributed and shared throughout the organization.  This means developing employees as personal leaders within their own roles and teams.  Allowing them to make decisions within their own scope.  Giving them the tools and know-how to resolve their own conflicts.

5.     Fear of Truth

Reality is truth.  Yet our brains are not capable of knowing 100% reality.  The reason … your brain can only process less than 1%  all the sensory data at any moment of time.

Your sense of reality — or perceived reality – comes from your beliefs, your sense of identity, your model of the world and so forth.  You become so attached to your own sense of reality, that you avoid new information (truth) that conflicts with your current (limited) thinking.

By no means is fear of truth exclusive to leaders.  However, avoidance of  truth can have dire consequences to leaders and their organizations. Your actions and decisions are driven by cognitive biases and those biases can be costly.

For example, success often blinds leaders and prevents them from seeing the truth of a looming future ahead.

6.     Fear of losing the known

fear of letting go

For your company to grow, leaders must move into foreign territories where they have no prior experience.  In those situations, you don’t have a mental flashlight to guide you.  That can be scary.

In reality, it’s NOT your fear of the unknown that stops you.  After all, how can you fear something you don’t even know about?!


What you really fear is …

Fear of losing (or letting go) of the known

As you grow to new leadership levels, the new possibilities can be endless.  Yet seldom does your mind see these new changes as amazing opportunities.  Instead, you …

·      Fear losing your sense of safety when making a leap

·      Fear letting go of current routines and habits that give you predictability

·      Fear letting go of who you are for who you can be

7.     Fear of your own brilliance

While it is a rare leader who hasn’t dreamed of standing on the shoulders of giants, boldly stepping out and realizing your own greatness is a scary proposition.

Yes, the majority of leaders fear their own brilliance.

How do I know?

I observe it in such behaviors as …

·      Getting caught up in distractions – such as, always looking at your cell phone

·      Mindless activities

·      Chasing the externals to make you feel good about yourself.

Being visible in the world … rising above mediocrity … standing in the light of your authentic self, that takes radical courage.

Fear does not have rule you.  The key is to know how to dislodge it.


Dislodge Your Unconscious Leadership Fears in 5 Minutes 

Step1:  Name your fear.

To break the hold of your fear, first name it.  Boil it down to a single word – like SeenAsFake.

Step 2:  Personify your fear.

For example, if you fear fear itself, perhaps you personify it as a big black monster.  If you fear power, perhaps you imagine it as Hitler or mean sergeant.

Step 3:  ID visual and auditory associations with your fear persona (identified in #2).

When you think of your fear persona …

·      What’s the characteristics of the picture?  Black and white or colored?  Large or small?  Near or far?

·      What does he/she/it sound like?  Deep or high voice?   Fast or slow pace?  Loud or soft?

Step 4:  Change the identified associations above to their opposites to transform your fear. 

For example,

·      If your fear picture is black/white, large and near, change it to color, small and far.

·      If your fear voice has a low pitch, loud volume and slow pace, change it to high pitch, low volume and fast pace.

That’s it!  With this simple 4 step process, your fear will transform from a roar to a whisper.

Want to know more secrets how to rise to the top of your leadership game? 

Sign up for our free report below — Wired to Win Big:  7 Inner Game Leadership Strategies to Rise to the Top and Stay There.  The only game you ever need to win is the game within your mind!


Denise Corcoran works with CEOs and executive teams seeking rapid growth yet are challenged by the “invisible barriers” that keep them stuck, overwhelmed or in crisis mode. Her company —The Empowered Business — is one of the few companies providing whole brain, strategic solutions for unleashing leadership and organizational potential. Her secret sauce is assisting CEOs and executive teams develop the “X factor” – i.e., the mindset, attitudes and game-changing thinking -- that drives double and triple digit growth … by design.


Posted by Denise Corcoran on June 17, 2015 in Beliefs, Emotional Mastery, Leadership Development, Leadership Performance, Mindset, Motivation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

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