Image of Group of people with business trainer at management seminar with blog post title Lead towards courage and values despite fear

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“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady of the United States

When asked the difference between fear and armor, social scientist and author, Brene Brown described that the most significant barrier to daring leadership is armor, not fear; because we all feel afraid, but not everyone armors-up. She asserts that transformative leaders acknowledge the fear through acknowledging the limbic drive of wanting to self-protect with some form of armor. Instead they stay in the fear, working through it with an open mind, open heart, and curiosity.

When leaders are confronted with multiple kinds of resistance from followers about moving forward, the leader can experience the push-back as a “not being enough trigger,” and respond with various armor-up-defenses. Defenses like “If you don’t do what I’m asking, I’ll replace you with someone who will do it!” or perfectionism – “oh, I’m going to somehow do better as a leader and get outstandingly good at this!” or numbing through hours of non-productive social media, eating or whatever.

Leaders working through the limbic drive of armoring-up are recognizing that the “not being enough trigger” (usually about some given leadership area) is merely natural fear and owning it inside as they acknowledge the fear as their own. They respond instead with (maybe clarifying questions if needed) some reflection of the push-back signaling “I hear your push-back. I’m grateful you’re telling me. I will consider this and get back to you.”

So the difference between fear and armor is that fear truly is a natural response, says Brene Brown. For many, armor seems the natural response. Brown asks that fear stays the natural response and that armor be a conscious choice by provoking the question, “Am I self-protecting right now in a way that moves me away from or towards courage, my values, and being a better leader?”

  • Am I self-protecting right now in a way that moves me away from or towards courage, my values, and being a better leader?
  • How well are you able to be both the observer and the observed when you are in fear?
  • When was the last time you responded to a resistant push-back from someone with a clarifying reflection rather than a reactive armor-up defense?

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