How to Handle Fear Like the Best Leaders


Do you remember how it felt when you had to make your first big professional decision? Whether it was to fire someone or make a significant purchasing decision, chances are, you felt fearful, nervous, and a bit skeptical.

While these are natural human emotions, figuring out how to consistently overcome them is a key to your progress. The reason is simple; your mind is more powerful than you think it is. It often is the difference between success and failure.  

Take Martha, an experienced salesperson at a software company, for example. She was outstanding in her role and had been a high performer for over five years. However, she yearned for more influence and impact on others in her career. So much so, she kept a leadership notebook of lessons she wanted to practice or avoid when she got her opportunity to lead.  

When a sales director position opened up in the firm, she immediately got excited and dreamed of what she would do in the role. But when the email went out about applying for the job, she didn’t respond right away. Instead, she doubted whether she was ready and if she was good enough to lead other people. She allowed her fear not to pursue the job, and one of her colleagues with less experience ended up as her boss.  

Now, there is no way to tell if Matha would have gotten the job over her colleague, but her mind, not her skills, eliminated her from a job she wanted. She allowed fear to win over courage. All her leadership notebook was missing was a simple lesson:

Rejecting fear and choosing courage dictates your future.

What is Fear?

Fear is defined as an unpleasant feeling triggered by the perception of danger, real or imagined. According to Arash Javanbakht and Lisa Saab, in their article in the Smithsonian, What Happens in the Brain When We Feel Fear, “Fear reaction starts in the brain and spreads through the body to make adjustments for the best defense or flight reaction. The fear response starts in a region of the brain called the amygdala. This almond-shaped set of nuclei in the temporal lobe of the brain is dedicated to detecting the emotional salience of the stimuli – how much something stands out to us.”

When your amygdala activates through seeing or experiencing a feeling, it naturally triggers a fear response. Ryan Holiday, the author of Courage is Calling, wrote, “No human is without fear. What’s required is the ability to rise above it in the moments that matter.”

Holiday is correct; the most remarkable leaders on the planet have an amygdala in their brain, just like you and me. However, they recognize the battle against fear is permanent, and they have to overcome it constantly. 

The battle against fear is permanent. Choosing courage to overcome fear is temporary.

Why the Best Leaders Choose Courage

Regardless of how experienced you are, no one is immune to feelings of doubt and fear. However, the best leaders don’t allow it to stop them. Roy T. Bennet said it well, “Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart!”

Leaders today, unlike previous generations, have been thrust into a hyper uncertain work environment which causes higher levels of fear and anxiety. They have to overcome uncertainty in their minds and help their team members do the same as well. 

Uncertainty for leaders is when they face unmeasurable and unpredictable risks, often caused by things outside their control. However, if leaders had all the data and there was no uncertainly, not only would they not be required, there would be no decisions, there would just be foregone conclusions. 

In a keynote to global leaders, I told them, “uncertainty is why leadership is needed.”

“Uncertainty is why leadership is needed.”

The best leaders embrace uncertainty and choose courage because they would rather be part of the solution, not a bystander. They would rather be the “man in man in the arena” rather than sitting on the sidelines, allowing others to make a positive difference.  

The only way for this to happen is for leaders to reject fear and choose courage. I defined courage in Building the Best as “Being frightened and deciding to do it anyway.” The root of the word courage is cor- the Latin word for heart. Getting to people’s hearts is precisely where the best leaders start to separate themselves from others. 

Don’t Stop at Yourself, Help Others

Not only are the best leaders able to choose courage for themselves, but they can also inspire others to do the same by getting to their hearts. They breathe life into their team members by encouraging, challenging, and empowering them. All in an effort to help them learn and grow

Even though leaders know this isn’t easy, great leaders embrace failure and don’t accept fear as a decision on their team.  

Great leaders don’t accept fear as a decision they expect courage.  


It would be common thinking to believe the best leaders reject fear and choose courage naturally. This wouldn’t be true. Fear will always make itself felt because that’s how our brains are naturally wired.  

Rejecting fear and choosing courage is a decision, and it’s learned. It makes me reflect on some wise words about parenting. A mentor told me, “John, your job isn’t to keep your kids safe. Your job is to make them courageous.”

Whether you are leading kids or team members at work, people feel more engaged and alive when they make courageous decisions and it’s often someone else that helps us make them.

Just think back to Martha; if she had a leader or a coach who helped her overcome her fear and choose courage, where might she be today in her professional career?

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Why Bad Leaders Fall in Love with Fear

“Don’t make decisions based on irrational fears.”

When the Coronavirus first appeared on the news, it was a distant epidemic and seemed like nothing to fear (at least for those of us outside of China). As the virus spread, everyone’s feelings evolved and eventually manifested into widespread fear as businesses closed, and stock markets plummeted.  

While we’ve been taught that fear is bad, that isn’t all true. Fear is simply an emotion of the mind and it’s triggered by the perception of danger, whether that danger is real or imagined. Leaders now have the choice to either fall in love with fear and allow it to crush their team or to use fear to fuel their future. 

Take Steven, an experienced division president of an established company, for example. As the Coronavirus threat increased, he fell in love with fear. He became consumed with reading and watching the news. In every email or conversation, he talked about the “struggle” and “how hard and difficult” times were going to be, without ever focusing on how they were going to address these challenges. His team followed suit, and at this point, all productivity and achievement have screeched to a halt.  

You see, there are two kinds of fear: rational and irrational. Steven let the irrational fear take over. 

Rational Fear

Our brains are wired to keep us safe, so not all fear is bad. Rational fear keeps us humble, teachable, and respectful of real threats. It allows us to continue to be others-centered, think powerfully, and maintain a sound mind. Rational fear knows it’s ok to experience the emotions of the mind, but not allow it to take hold of us.  

For example, the threat of danger in the current environment is real. Many people are becoming sick and dying because of the Coronavirus. Rational fear tells us it’s wise to practice social distancing, wash our hands, and work remotely.  

Irrational Fear

If we aren’t careful, rational fear can turn into irrational fear. Irrational fear can choke growth, stifle innovation, drain our courage, and paralyze us into inaction. If that wasn’t enough, it can lead to inactivity and a lethargic state of being. 

Irrational fear manifests what is feared. It turns itself into anxiety, worry, and panic that spirals of control. It only allows you to focus on what negative things “might” or “could” happen in the future. Don’t make decisions based on irrational fears.

Don’t make decisions based on irrational fears.

The most significant obstacle leaders face today is their teams falling into a cloud of irrational fear and doubt. So to help you overcome this obstacle, here are a few things you can do to mitigate these fears for your team: 

Level set on the facts

It’s going to be damn near impossible to overcome irrational fear if you are dealing with feelings over facts. Your job is to be educated on the facts of the situation to the best of your ability.  

This doesn’t mean you need to know the exact number of reported worldwide cases and deaths caused by COVID-19. It does mean establishing a baseline with your employees on their “new normal” including working from home policies, how to company is appropriately responding to the virus, and what you and the company are doing to prevent massive layoffs. 

Admit you’re concerned 

People believe leaders who show their vulnerability and admit their concern when faced with a difficult situation. Just this week, Jeff Bezos sent a company-wide letter to all employees at Amazon and he started it with a powerful statement: “This isn’t business as usual, and it’s a time of great stress and uncertainty. It’s also a moment in time when the work we are doing is most critical.”

Bezos is telling his team that he is concerned and uncertain. It’s a powerful lesson in leadership because he knows they are thinking about those things as well (in addition to working in stressful situations and putting themselves in harm’s way). To act like nonchalant would have been a massive mistake.  

Inspire action

The way forward and to help any problematic situation is through action. You can’t tell your team to do, you must inspire action. In Building the Best, I wrote about the role a leader has to play to inspire or “breathe life into” their people. 

One of the best ways to inspire action is to focus on words that remind people of their purpose and help them stay positive. Bezos did a phenomenal job of this by saying, “It’s also a moment in time when the work we are doing is most critical.”  

In recent research by Todd Herman of 29 CEO’s and how they are reacting to the Coronavirus, he found some stark differences in strategy-focused CEOs and fear-focused CEOs.

Strategy-focused CEOs are: 

  • 9 Times more likely to be shifting product/service offerings.
  • 6 Times more likely to use words like ‘action’ and ‘opportunity.’

Be thoughtful of the words you use to your team because it will help create a better reality. 

Turn to hope and courage

The antidote to irrational fear is hope. Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on positive outcomes. When hope is at the center of people’s minds instead of fear, it leads to courageous actions.  

Mark Twain famously said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Harry S. Truman shared similar sentiments when he said, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”

Have faith and rely on hope when communicating with your team. While the outcomes might not be exactly what they were a month ago, you’ll give your team the best chance for creating positive outcomes in the current situation. 


Here’s the best part about fear: you choose your thoughts and how you lead others. Are you going to level set on the facts, admit your concern, inspire others, and turn to hope or are you going to allow irrational fear to take over?  

What do you do to provide hope to your people? Do you agree?

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company making victual training easy and effective. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success and host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How to Effectively Lead Others in Uncertain Times

Confused businessman writing question mark on whiteboard

We seem to be in uncertain times. It’s the role of great leaders to provide direction and hope in times of uncertainty.

In season 24 episode 9, John covers the critical topic of leading in uncertain times.

Leadership isn’t easy when times are good. Consider the challenge of leading in uncertain times. Uncertainty refers to epistemic situations involving imperfect or unknown information.

In many ways, leadership and uncertainty go hand in hand. Leaders are constantly providing a vision of a future that hasn’t happened, selling a vision of a better world than exists in its current form.  All in an effort to rally others to buy into a vision and make it a reality.

Great leaders provide direction and hope in times of uncertainty.

John Eades

There is no better example of this than the coronavirus pandemic.  In my 37 years, I have never experienced this much uncertainty.  Depending on your industry, there is a good chance the virus has or will impact your business (and the people you lead) in one way or another. 

Take fear head-on

At the center of uncertainty is fear.  You and I fear what we don’t know or understand, and fear is an emotion of the mind. Those six inches between our ears begin to picture all that might wrong and all of the scenarios that might play out. The keyword here is “might”. Fear gets complicated. Not only does it infiltrate your mind, but it can and will infiltrate each person on your team, in different ways and with different intensity levels.  

Overcoming fear is a skill you can develop.  As you gain more experience and you develop your fear reducing skills, you will get better at not allowing fear to take hold of the space in your brain.  Part of your responsibility is to help them understand that nothing good comes after they allow fear to set in, regardless of how intense the pressures or messages from the outside world become.  

The formula for leaders

Focus on Facts + Communicate Hope in the Future

Focus on Facts

Once we understand fear is at the root of what will ruin you or your team in uncertain times, then comes your most important job, get the facts.  Take the time, effort, and necessary steps to get the facts about the current situation. Don’t rely on a news headline or some opinion you have, but on the actual facts.  While it’s true the facts change as time goes on, it’s important anything you communicate to your team be rooted in facts, not fear.

Communicate Hope in the Future

Communicating hope in the future is challenging because often the facts can create even more uncertainty or doubt.  While each situation is different, I have found it almost always better to side with transparency centered with hope.  In many ways, the only thing that matters for a leader is what’s ahead of them and their team. Hope is expecting good things with confidence. It’s an optimistic state of mind that the future is brighter. Make that the center of your message. If hope isn’t in your message, your people won’t make the self-disciplined choices required to improve the situation.  They will give up.  

Self-discipline is simply the willingness and the ability to sacrifice what you want now for what you want more later on.  Each member of your team will have to be willing and able to sacrifice what they want now (fear and comfort) for what they want more later on (a better future). This is exactly why your message to your team needs both facts and hope in the future.  


As we enter this current state of uncertainty or any type of uncertainty you experience on your team, remember, you are exactly in the position you are supposed to be. You are good enough to lead your team through this. Now, more than ever, they need you to lead.   

What are the keys to leading in times of uncertainy and crisis?

Don’t allow fear to take hold, focus on the facts, communicate hope in the future.

What do great leader do in times of uncertainty?

Great leaders provide direction and hope in uncertain times.

Is leadership harder during times of uncertainty?

Without question leadership is harder during times of uncertainty. But leadership in many ways is all about uncertainty.

Join the Next Ultimate Leadership Academy If you are ready to elevate the way you lead, join the next virtual Ultimate Leadership Academy which starts March 18th. Use the code “leader” to get $50 off.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company that exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. He is currently booking events and speaking engagements for 2020. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.