Acknowledging Our Fears Along the Leadership Journey
It's not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena...who, at best, knows in the end the triumph of great achievement, and at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while DARING GREATLY. So that his place will never be with those cold timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.
- Theodore Roosevelt
I first read this quote several years ago when I began my personal BEHIND THE IMAGE journey. Author Brene Brown shares about how much of her work was inspired by these words. John Ortberg opens with this quote in his book If You Want To Walk On Water, You've Got To Get Out Of The Boat. Each time I've read it, it has shaken me to my core as I ponder this question: "Why do I crave the approval and fear the rejection of those who do not step into the arena?"
These fears aren't new. I've had them for years. However, accepting the responsibilities of leadership means increasing the audience thats in the arena. The fear of failure wouldn't have nearly the same power if there wasn't some level of social status assigned to our achievements and accomplishments.
I've been silent for a season as I wrestle with the responsibilities of leadership I've accepted. The truth is, the stresses of organizational leadership have surfaced so many insecurities within me: shame, fear, uncertainty...
"Do I really have what it takes to lead at this level?"
"Are the responsibilities of this position more than I am capable of handling?"
"What if I'm wrong about the direction I felt God put on my heart for this organization?"
My wife has a favorite quote that she sometimes posts around our home:
"What if I fail?
"Oh but my darling, what if you fly?"
As leaders, our fear of failure and rejection often sabotages the very work we first set out to lead.
Like Author John Ortberg says, "if you want to walk in water, you've gotta get out of the boat."
For those not familiar, this quote pertains to the biblical story of Jesus calling Peter to step out of the boat he and the other disciples were on, and onto the water to join Jesus where he was standing. Unfortunately, he began to sink into the water after the first few steps as the fear began to overcome his trust.
Yes, Peter "failed" to complete his journey and exposed himself to the ridicule of others. Yet Peter also experienced the thrill and elation of actually placing his feet on water and not sinking!
Was he a failure? Maybe. But did he also accomplish something no one else had ever done? Yes!
As Ortberg puts it, "Fear and growth go together like macaroni and cheese."
Here's the real truth: I wasn't brought in to lead because I was the most experienced candidate, had the most tragic story, or earned the most professional letters next to my name. I was called to this position because like Liam Neeson in the movie, Taken, "I have a particular set of skills" needed to lead this mission and and help this organization increase it's capacity to serve grieving people.
When I begin to lead based on fearing what others think, I begin to sink. But when I keep my eyes focused on the mission that God has burdened my heart with, I feel so alive and filled with courage.
I may not know the outcome of this current journey, and there are many elements bigger than anything I've ever led. However, I'm in the arena now, which means I now have the opportunity to face my fear and experience growth. And that's what the journey is all about!
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I the Lord your God are with you wherever you go."