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?

Effective Communication for Leaders: Ready to improve your communication skills? Register for the virtual workshop.

Free Downloadable Coaching Cheatsheet There is nothing easy about coaching. So we put together a list of eight of the best coaching questions to help you. Download it for free here.

Take the Free Leadership Style Quiz? Join over 60k leaders and discover your current leadership style for free.

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.

How to Lead Under Pressure

Adult Business Man Under Stress Pressure In Office Using Laptop

“The leaders who are able to manage the pressure and seek opportunities in the face of these challenges are the ones who will set their team up for success in the long term.”

In season 25 episode 3, Roderic Yapp joined us. He is the founder of Leadership Forces and a great friend of the show.

How great leaders handle pressure

Pressure is a key element of uncertainty. Turns out how effective leaders understanding pressure and how to handle it. Rod laid out three steps to follow:

  1. Everyone feels pressure in different ways.  Depending on experience and external forces, each person will feel pressure in different ways.
  2. Know your people to know how intense the pressure is on them – Strong relationships are the name of the game to know how each person will handle the pressure.
  3. Focus on the next thing – “Focus on the one thing you or your team needs to get done next” 

Other Topics

  • How has leadership changed in current times
  • Short vs long term priorities in uncertain times
  • How to define reality and deliver hope

Key Quotes:

“People will remember how you made them feel when times are difficult.” 

“The leaders who are able to manage the pressure and seek opportunities in the face of these challenges are the ones who will set their team up for success in the long term.”

“Focus on the one thing you need to get done next”

“Your focused application of your attention is critical in a time like this.”

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.