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The High Cost of Fear

Tackling anxiety in leadership and entrepreneurship

Jamie Lee Curtis famously quipped in True Lies that 'fear is not an option,' yet for many leaders and entrepreneurs today, fear is no longer just an occasional visitor; it has become a constant companion for many, particularly for leaders and entrepreneurs.

The rising levels of anxiety reported globally signal an urgent need to address the psychological and emotional barriers that hold us back. Fear, largely driven by our ego's intent to keep us safe, often ends up limiting our potential and stifling our growth. 

But how do we distinguish between protective fear and restrictive anxiety? And more importantly, how can we overcome the fears that keep us as leaders from playing small?

Understanding the Roots of Fear 

The 2024 findings from the American Psychiatric Association's annual mental health survey indicate a rising trend in anxiety among U.S. adults. This year, 43% of adults reported feeling more anxious than they did last year, an increase from 37% in 2023 and 32% in 2022. This growing anxiety, influenced by various factors ranging from financial concerns to global affairs, contributes to the constant barrage of stress that can cause our fear response to misfire.

Fear originates from our primal instinct to survive. Historically, the fight, flight, or freeze response was a mechanism developed to protect us from physical dangers. However, in the modern context, this mechanism often misfires. The ego, our self-constructed identity, perpetuates this state by constantly signaling us to play it safe. This misfiring, intended to protect us from imminent physical harm, is instead triggered by non-life-threatening yet stressful situations, distorting our perception of real vs. perceived threats. Thus, our Ego's overprotection blurs the lines between real threats and psychological fears.

For leaders and entrepreneurs, fear can manifest as hesitation to take bold steps, reluctance to embrace change or anxiety over potential failures. The cost of succumbing to fear is high, potentially leading to missed opportunities and diminished leadership effectiveness. 

Here are three strategies to help navigate and overcome fear:



1️⃣ Identify and Acknowledge Your Fears 

The first step in overcoming fear is to identify and acknowledge it. Leaders should take time to reflect and pinpoint specific fears. 

For example, Barbra (name changed), a client recently promoted to senior vice president of sales, was referred to me to enhance her leadership presence. Initially, she thought her goals should be about projecting confidence when presenting to superiors or the board. However, as we delved deeper, it became clear her real fear was not being good enough, and feeling like an imposter despite her qualifications and success. 

To get to the root of this fear, we conducted reflective exercises where Barbra was asked to describe situations where she felt most anxious or uncertain. We used guided questions to delve deeper, such as, "What specific thoughts come to mind when you're about to present?" and "How do you feel about the reactions of your audience?" These questions helped Barbra articulate her fears of judgment and criticism.

2️⃣ Rationalize Your Fears 

Once fears are identified, challenge them by rationalizing. 

Ask yourself: What’s the worst that can happen? How likely is it? 

For instance, when I considered starting my own business, I was paralyzed by the fear of catastrophic failure—going into extreme debt and losing everything. I had to step back and realistically assess the risks, acknowledging my strengths in budgeting and business management, which significantly mitigated the likelihood of such failures. This rationalization helps differentiate between realistic concerns and exaggerated fears, allowing leaders to focus on actionable, prudent risk management.

3️⃣ Implement Gradual Exposure 

Gradual exposure is a technique where you slowly expose yourself to the fear in controlled amounts. 

For leaders, this could mean taking on progressively challenging projects that stretch your capabilities without overwhelming you. This method helps build confidence and reduce anxiety by proving that you can handle more than you think. For instance, Michael (name changed), a previous client stepped into the role of a Chief Technology Officer at a fast-growing tech startup. He felt overwhelmed by the fear of not living up to the expectations that came with his new position, particularly in leading a much larger team than he had previously managed.

To address this, we applied the gradual exposure method by initially assigning him to lead smaller project teams on short-term objectives. Each project was slightly more challenging than the last. Through this process, Michael was able to build his confidence gradually while developing a deeper understanding of his leadership style and capabilities, and with each project, his fear of inadequacy decreased.

Understanding and overcoming fear is crucial for anyone in a leadership or entrepreneurial role. By identifying, rationalizing, and gradually exposing themselves to their fears, leaders and entrepreneurs can transform anxiety into a catalyst for growth. 



If you're starting a new role, have recently been promoted, considering a career change, or just want to lead and speak with more clarity connection, and confidence, these can all be great reasons to work with me! For leaders looking to deepen their understanding of self and enhance their effectiveness, I offer the Breakthrough Blueprint service. This personalized coaching program builds on the insights gained from the Enneagram to help leaders develop strategies that are not only effective but also true to their core values.

In my work with developing leaders, I often find that they are initially searching for the next best strategy to motivate their teams, but as we peel back the layers, we start with the foundation of aligning their actions with their core values.

Your Challenge for this Week

This week, I challenge you to step outside your comfort zone and confront one specific fear that's been holding you back in your professional life. Using the strategies discussed:

  1. Identify and Acknowledge: Choose one fear related to your role as a leader or entrepreneur. Write it down and reflect on why it impacts you.

  2. Rationalize: Consider the worst-case scenario of facing this fear and assess how likely it is to occur. Remind yourself of your skills and past successes to help mitigate this fear.

  3. Gradual Exposure: Set a small, manageable goal that involves facing your fear in a controlled way. Whether it’s speaking up in a meeting, pitching a new idea, or taking on a project that stretches your abilities, take that first step.

Document your experience and the outcomes. What did you learn? How did it feel? Share your journey with us by replying to this email or in our community forum. Let’s inspire each other by sharing how we're moving beyond fear to seize opportunities!


As always, I LOVE hearing from you… what are you taking from today’s content?


Comment below or email me at


Until next week, keep thriving!


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