Life is not a walk in the park. In actuality, it is probably more akin to a walk in a dense forest or wooded area at midnight. There are so many unknowns – so many aspects of it that can inspire dread and concern. Should I take another step forward? What is lurking around the corner? What is that sound? Which way should I go? How do I get out of here? When will the sun rise? Life can actually be quite scary for the majority of us as it is filled with much uncertainty. Take, for example, President Trump’s term in office – I am sure that this has the majority of the world on the edge of their seats and feeling quite fearful.
The story is told about a young boy who withdrew himself from interacting with other children his age because he feared that they would not like nor accept him. He grew older and refused all opportunities to connect with individuals of the opposite sex because he feared that they would reject him. Ultimately, these fears led him to live an extremely solitary life that was crippled and unable to reach its fullest potential. This is how fear works – it seeks to mentally paralyse us so that we feel that we are powerless and unable to make worthwhile and sometimes necessary adjustments to our lives.
Great leaders also face fear. You must be able to appreciate that Nelson Mandela faced fear when he was fighting against apartheid in South Africa. Standing up against the perpetrators of racial inequality who felt it necessary to oppress others, he fought against the obviously flawed political system of his day and it landed him in jail for 27 years. Even after his release, one would imagine that he faced immense fear in becoming the first black President of South Africa – what a tremendous responsibility! I am sure that he faced many fearful moments throughout his entire life as he sought to fulfil his God-given purpose.
Was fear present in the mind of President John F. Kennedy when in 1961, he asked all Americans to commit to seeing men land on the moon? Never before was this done and if we are talking about facing the unknown, there could have been no greater unknown than flying into space, reaching and landing on the moon and then making one’s way back to earth. President Kennedy faced this fear and mobilized an entire nation to overcome it and in 1969, his vision became a nation’s reality.
Dr Martin Luther King Jr. even had to fear for his life and those of his loved ones. In fighting against widespread and accepted racism and segregation, he received numerous death threats and assassination attempts. Can you imagine the fear that must have gripped his heart as he stepped outside of his house each day? Or how concerned he must have been each time he stood up at a public event to speak against the racial injustices of his day and to encourage equity and fairness across all races? But he did it. Time and time again, Dr. King rose up and spoke out for what he believed in – in spite of his fears.
Leaders are fearless. A bold statement indeed, but in this context and for the purpose of this article, the word ‘fearless’ does not denote that there is an absence of fear – rather, it assumes the presence of fear but acknowledges that its crippling effects can be resisted and overpowered. One of the common characteristics found in great leaders is their ability to face the fear of the unknown with resoluteness and boldness. As in the case of the three leaders I have highlighted, they knew what they wanted to accomplish and with no crystal ball to show them how it would all play out, they firmly advanced towards that which they envisioned, even if they felt that it could cost them their lives.
Another critical trait present in almost all effective leaders is that they seek to stand up against injustice. A leader who perpetrates or even allows unfairness against others is a destructive leader and should be stripped of all authority as he or she will only cause further harm and injury to those under his or her charge. Leaders are not afraid to challenge all instances where others are being abused or taken advantage of. They face these head-on, not only with their speech, but they go further with their actions in seeking to dismantle any institutions that perpetuate such.
We need fearless leaders in our current age – persons who will not only stand for something positive (even if it first appears impossible) without wavering or shirking but those who will also identify and root out inequalities found within our everyday existence. Yes, there will be fear, but we must not allow these fears to paralyse and prevent us from pressing ahead through the dark forest of life. As long as we keep moving forward, the sun will rise and we will break through to the other side.
(Davidson Ishmael holds a MBA in Leadership and Innovation and is an operations manager in the financial services sector.