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Leveraging Fear for Action
Leveraging Fear For Action

You want to shake your fear of launching a new venture? Good luck with that.

Every person I’ve ever helped launch — every single person — was afraid at one point or another. 

Afraid of rejection by family or friends.
Afraid that their idea would not succeed.
Afraid of running out of money.
Afraid of living in humiliation when one or all the above took place.

You’d love to lock your fear away in some little room in a distant outbuilding and throw away the map so it can’t find its way back.

Complicating the situation is that you and I are emotional beings. We can’t separate our emotions from the rest of life. We might strive to approach issues logically, but we can’t. 

We process data and emotions simultaneously. We can’t separate our emotions from how we view facts. Jesus designed us to view one in light of the other. At the same time.

You might be able to control your emotions from popping out onto the surface of your face. But they’re still calling the shots underneath. Every decision you make gets filtered through your emotions.

The challenge is that fear occupies a primary seat at your emotional table. It possesses superpowers that routinely overrule other emotions and jerk the wheel onto a path that runs next to the cliff.

Fear is inescapable. Especially in launching new ventures.

So rather than pretend your fear doesn’t exist — or that you’re fearless — let me walk you through some key strategies for leveraging fear for action. 

Know Your Fear Facts

There are two types of fear: legitimate and warped. 

Legitimate fears are rooted in reality. You should be afraid a hot skillet will burn you if you touch it. You should be afraid of dying if you fall out of a 5-story window. Legitimate fears deserve attention.

Warped fears are rooted in reality, but have taken on a reality of their own. Refusing to stand next to a closed window on the fifth floor of a building is a warped fear. Ditto for being afraid to wade in ankle deep water because you might drown. Warped fears deserve dissecting.

Next time you’re afraid, ask yourself, “Is this a legitimate or a warped fear?” Labeling will help you leverage it well.

Legitimate fear protects. Warped fear paralyzes.

Pay attention to legitimate fears. God designed them to protect you. Fears like running out of money or ruining a relationship are fears that need to be acknowledged and addressed. Fear can informative and one of the emotions we have that God uses to protect us. 

When making decisions or leading your team through change, list out the legitimate fears on a whiteboard or in a public forum for all to see. Shedding light on the legitimate fears leverages them for action. You can now use them as boundaries when making decisions. It’s like an investor friend once told me, 

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There are two rules of investing. One, don’t lose the money. Two, refer to rule #1.

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Dissect the warped fears. Note the legitimate fear at the tree’s root while recognizing how the tree has usurped power never intended for it to have.

“Why do I feel this way?” is an excellent dissecting question for warped fears. When used with a team member, ask the question in an objective tone as possible without passing judgment.

Remember how I said we couldn’t process data without emotions? How we process data and emotions simultaneously? What if you treated fear as another data point? Measure it and make it an objective reality. In our StartNew process, we include a “Fear & Clarity” exercise with every module for this very reason. Assigning fear a number allows you and your team to move through fear’s paralyzing nature. It will enable you to address your fears healthily.

Fantasy is worse than reality.

Occasionally you’ll encounter someone who not only sees the world as half-empty but is prone to fantasize about evil and its impact. (You should lovingly tell them to focus on movies and sci-fi books.)

Parents know well where our minds go when our child hasn’t returned home by curfew. We envision that they have been in a car wreck and are in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. We haven’t been notified because their wallet was lost and their cell phone was destroyed, and all the computers able to look up the car registration are offline. 

You get the picture.

When faced with loss or harm to people and relationships, we easily project the worst, which skews our ability to be objective and lead through fear.

The next time your mind sprints to the worst-case scenario, pause, take a deep breath, and remember, “Fantasy is worse than reality.”

We live in a chronically anxious society.

In recent decades, our United States culture has grown more and more anxious. We are becoming more and more focused on pathology and how to reverse it at every level. Safety, health, and longevity drive anxiety and cause us to run away from risk more than ever before. 

Children are not allowed to play in the dirt for fear of getting sick. We obsess over diet and “organics” and exercise in pursuit of beauty and a longer life. We consult doctors and rely on medicines more than previous generations.

Data and information have become our false gods as we seek certainty before making decisions. 

Chronic anxiety has replaced courageous risk.

Courageous Leadership Requires Maturity

As a leader of a new venture, you must be aware of how an anxious culture can overwhelm your team and suck away your energy. Christian maturity is required for courageous leadership more than ever. 

Look back over your own life. Note when the fears came true, Jesus led you to where you are today. Those fears didn’t keep you in the past. 

Build a short story of your journey and the ways Jesus brought you to your current reality. Battle scars and all. More ready to continue to trust Him and follow Him.

Lovingly remind your team of God’s provision. Share Ephesians 3:20-21 with them repeatedly: 

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Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.

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Trusting in God’s Spirit and His grasp and power in your life will provide a fear filter that keeps you moving forward every day.

Your Leadership Must Reflect Self-Regulation

I’ve been talking about fear and how to help your team. But the first step is to apply the above truths to yourself.

The nature of your presence will affect the well-being of your venture more than techniques, methods, etc. What your team senses from you will impact them more than you leading them in some fear abating exercise. 

You need to self-regulate and self-differentiate. 

Self-regulation refers back to your Christian maturity and to Paul’s words that God did not give us a spirit of fear and timidity but one of power, love, and self-control. Self-control entails awareness AND the discipline to not let your emotions override your thoughtful side.

Self-differentiation is a characteristic of all great leaders. This ability speaks to staying connected with the people in your life while also remaining distinct from them. To differentiate from the crowd or herd mentality so as to lead through and beyond it. 

The roots of this trait are found in Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus when he exhorts Christians to speak the truth in love. Self-differentiation doesn’t mean stop loving people. But it means keeping that love in balance with truth — especially as it relates to what you embrace or let go of.

The bottom line is before you apply the following Fear-to-Action steps with your team, apply them to yourself. Spend good time reflecting on these steps. Internalize them. Then, and only then, apply them to your colleagues.

Encourage & Gather Your Leaders

When faced with a crisis or a significant decision with potentially devastating results, gather a team around you. If you already have a team, decide which members fit the following characteristics and, if necessary, repopulate your team accordingly. Give it a label that implies that it is short-term and focused on this particular issue if you’re concerned about perceptions.

The leaders you are seeking embody what it means to be courageous. They have made hard decisions in the past. They are not fearless as much as they wisely approach and leverage their fears. They don’t ignore their fears. They call them out and move through them like moving through a patch of forest overgrown with poison ivy. They don’t run in blindly. But ultimately, when there’s no other way but through, they do run in. They are prone to action, not paralysis.

Ask them to serve with you and help you navigate through this season. Communicate how you trust them. Share what particular traits led you to reach out to them. Stress that you are in need of wise counselors at this juncture and that God brought them to mind; you are simply following His Spirit’s initiative.

Confront Fears Together

The first time you meet, spend some time letting the team get to know one another. Ask them to share a time they courageously led through fear and danger. It could be personal — like the time I had to learn how to swim after the fear had consumed me for months. It could be corporate — like the time a friend of mine led his business through bankruptcy back to solvency. He had spent months and months wondering what the outcome would finally be.

By inviting team members to share their experiences, you will build mutual trust and team unity. They will hear of common fates and common results. They will also discover different nuances and, thus, appreciate each other’s unique contributions.

After some team gelling time, confront the fears head-on. Make the covert overt. Expose your fears to the light. Clarity and faith will help dissipate them.

Name your fears. Naming them allows you to see the fear better. Identifying a fear helps you decide how best to address it. Use “I” and “we” language here. No “some people feel …”. Instead, use “I feel …” or “We feel …”

Use a whiteboard or giant sticky note sheets that can be hung on the wall. Have everyone get a stack of small sticky notes and start listing the fears they have, one per note. Give them 10 minutes or so.

Then have each person share one of their fears one at a time, adding their sticky note to the one on the wall. Add their fear, even if it’s already on the wall. This allows individuals to see they’re not unique — that they share common fears and share a common pathway forward.

Hold up the non-pathological side of fear as you do this exercise. Affirm how fears are normal. How experiencing loss can be debilitating, how the concern being listed are real. 

Pathological fear and pathological responses are abnormal and prolonged. A pathological liar lies all the time, which is contrary to normal, healthy behavior. A pathological adulterer refuses to live in a monogamous relationship. Again, abnormal and destructive behavior, not only for himself but for his spouse and family.

Convert Fear Into Questions

After naming the fears, begin the process of moving through them. This starts by converting the fears into questions.

“We might have to sell the building!” becomes “What if we have to sell the building?”

“I might have to get another job!” becomes “What job would I get if I had to get another one?”

“The cancer might not go away!” becomes “If the cancer doesn’t go away, what do I want to make sure and do with the days I have left?”

Questions open our minds and hearts to opportunities and possibilities. They reveal pathways into the future. Likely not the pathway we thought we’d be on, not the path we had initially mapped out and plotted. But a new direction into a new future with the same God who walked with us to this point in the first place. He is the same God who promises to never leave us. He has secured that promise for us in the person of Jesus. He has planted that promise in us in the person of His Spirit.

As you convert the fears into questions, decide the priority of answering the questions. Sometimes it’s sufficient to simply ask the question. You’ll find the worry lifts because a possibility of the future materializes. Other times your team will want to ask and answer. The questions requiring an answer become action steps. They form the basis for moving courageously into a new future.

Listen To The Holy Spirit

As you begin to seek answers for the questions you identified, listen to the Holy Spirit along the way.

Use Scripture to discover answers. 

I routinely use the Book of Acts with teams I work with. This account of the early church demonstrates how God moves His people through fear into new futures. Futures full of new relationships wrapped in the same resurrection hope. Time and again, through the pain of persecution, God scattered His Church in Acts, resulting in new communities of faith being born and new people coming into His Family.

Also, consider Scripture passages that speak of God’s victories — and thus our victories because we belong to Him. Romans 8:31-39 reminds us of this truth. Nothing can ever separate us from God. Jesus has made us more than conquerors. Reminding your team of our ultimate destination and outcome will instill in them confidence beyond themselves. Filling them with God’s promises in Scripture fills them with God’s Spirit. 

In addition to Scripture, spend regular and concerted time in prayer as you listen to God’s Spirit. Call out specific fears in prayer. Pray for desired outcomes. When in group settings, encourage individuals to spend time in silent prayer so that their hearts bring their individual needs to the discussion. Instill dedicated devotion into your daily routine. Encourage your leaders to do the same.

Move Forward With Confidence

Entrepreneurial leaders understand change is a resource. They are innately aware that life involves growing and that growth always entails changing. 

Such leaders approach fear in a similar fashion. Anxiety is normal, and fears are common. When left unchecked, head-on, they hinder individuals and organizations. When addressed in Christian maturity, they become resources for growth in both faith and action.

Don’t allow fear to paralyze you. Don’t allow fear to keep you from the future Jesus has laid out for you. Approach them with the knowledge that you are His. He has conquered your ultimate fear, death itself. You are His.

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