Traditionally, the presumption of ‘fearless leader’ has been held in high regard. Someone who takes risks, who takes charge, and keeps full control and power in the face of adversity. What had not historically been considered was the impact yielding of such power and control had on the supporting individuals and thus, the dynamic of the entire community. It is not a surprise this is often used in conjunction with the term ‘dictator’. In a business situation, do you want a fearless leader, or an emotionally intelligent leader? Stick with me before you answer that based on traditional presumptions…
How does one become what is known as the traditional concept of “fearless leader”? One of many concepts studied by Kets de Vries and Miller (1985) in their article on “Narcissism and Leadership,” is based on a personality trait called “reactive narcissism”. Such individuals are driven to prove their superiority, power and adequacy. They lack empathy, resist criticism, and blame others for failures. Because of their demeanor and actions, this personality is often viewed as the ‘fearless leader’. However, when considering leadership from the perspective of motivating and inspiring others, and being a solid role model for those in your wake, this individual completely lacks true leadership capabilities.
A title and a box above other boxes on an organizational chart does not make one a leader. In my career I have encountered a few ‘fearless leaders’. Take for example the executive who would walk across the office in a rage, copying an entire organization on an email to blame and humiliate others before fully gauging a situation and keeping himself in check. Imagine the demoralization that can spread from this behavior occurring on a consistent basis. How might increasing this individual’s level of emotional intelligence improve his leadership skills? Acknowledge the fear that underlies these actions. What? A leader having fear!? Yes, one who is truly a fearless leader is not one without fear, but one who acknowledges the fear, and can push forth with grace and fortitude in spite of it, without throwing others under the bus, and allowing themselves and others to learn and grow from the situation. Ego must not cloud the situation.
These days people think too much in extremes and are afraid to acknowledge having fear. Fear is something you have if someone is chasing you with a knife, a car coming at you in the wrong lane, a rabid animal before you with exposed teeth, or a big creepy spider on your wall (just me?).
Fear actually also is- “that customer is pissed, I hope I don’t lose them”, or “I am really nervous about making this sales call, I’m a bit intimidated by this person”, or “I can’t believe I said that in that meeting, I hope they don’t think I’m an idiot”. Anything that raises concern that you might lose something of comfort or importance to you qualifies as fear. At the greatest extreme, it could be the loss of life. But it may also be loss of status, prestige, financial security, reputation, or even simply the ability to have a pleasant conversation.
Once you can name it, you can effectively deal with it. It takes humility to do this, and this is a much stronger trait than trying to hide your fear with blame, justification and attacks on others. Humility and an emotionally intelligent leader build morale, cohesion and a dynamic team in support of one another and a common goal. Read: Profit and success!