Our Fearless Leaders

Everybody wants to be fearless, don’t they?  We prize fearlessness, and seem to admire it greatly. But I wonder why? Fearless, it seems to me, is another word for stupid. If you are fearless you either don’t see the danger, or don’t care about it. This is the kind of behaviour that gets you killed. If you are a leader, it is the kind of behaviour that gets your team killed, or kills your business.

Fear saves your life. It gets you running from the moment you hear the deep throated growl in the bushes. It stops you from going too close to the edge of the cliff. It makes sure you don’t go too fast down that hill. Fearless people do all that stuff without thought of the consequences.

Of course, you don’t want to let fear stop you doing everything, which is where the real gold is to be found: Bravery. I want brave leaders, not fearless ones. Brave leaders are aware of the risks, they plan for them, but they take those scary steps anyway, when the rewards are worth it. Brave people listen to their fear, learn what they can from it, and step forward carefully.

Tony Abbott was so fearless that he didn’t believe he was going to lose the leadership right up until the moment he did, even though the rest of the country knew he was down for the count for months beforehand. He was blind, stupid, and utterly fearless, and he was intent on throwing the whole country over his personal cliff. Fearlessness is just dumb.

We see our own fear horribly clearly, but we often can’t see the fear in others. So we assume that people who do the things that we find terrifying are fearless, and we admire them for it. But I don’t admire fearlessness at all. I admire the people who are terrified, and try anyway.  These are the brave ones.

I see bravery every day. I see it in the student who is terrified of public speaking, so she takes opportunities to practice and get better. She is scared, but she does it anyway. I see it in the student who is afraid to fail but who tries things that he has never done before. I see it in the teacher who teaches something he has never taught before, who is scared of getting it wrong but gives it his best shot.

I see bravery in the parents who let their kids stretch their wings when every parental instinct says to hold them close and keep them safe.

I see bravery in the politicians who make decisions that they know will not be popular initially, but that are the right thing to do – like Malcolm Fraser dismantling the White Australia policy and welcoming refugees. We don’t see this bravery very often these days, but it does still happen.

I see bravery in the people who leave their jobs to start a business.

I see bravery in the people who change career and leave their comfort zone.

I see bravery in the people who try, knowing that failure is, indeed, an option.

I see bravery in the people who stand up for what is right, while shaking in their shoes.

We need to make space for bravery, not fearlessness. Lots of things in life are scary. I’m ok with being afraid, as long as it doesn’t always stop me. How about you?

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