Why are we afraid to lead?

Back in 2013 Dr. Brené Brown suggested that the central question presented to us in the 21st century is, "What are we supposed to be afraid of and who is to blame?"


There is always some news headline pointing to the problems we face and giving us someone to blame. We have certainly seen this question come up about government, faith, social justice issues, health and economics in recent times. Rarely do we ever admit there is something that we can be responsible for. All this blaming gives us something really tempting to focus on. We fear and then we're moved to aggression, to blame someone, or it turns inward and we become full of anxiety. In all of this we don't have the language to describe what it is that is moving us.


On top of this I am sure many of us have have experienced bad leadership, perhaps causing us or others we know much pain. It's no wonder we are distrustful of leaders and afraid to be leaders ourselves.


We are all afraid, this is the human condition. Our brains are supposed to be on watch for what might cause us harm and be moved to caution in those situations. This doesn't mean we don't get to a point where we are brave, but first it is fear that we must develop a relationship with.


The problem with fear


Fear is what impedes our ability both to lead well and to elder or parent well. For a leader, fear impedes us from assuming responsible for what we are given, this is a role. In my last post I talked about 3 ways leaders either give away their responsibility or take responsibility for things outside of their control. Coercive, manipulative and powerless leadership is the result. And because WE DON'T UNDERSTAND HUMAN BEHAVIOR, leaders end up often pushing deeper into what does not work, repeating the same mistakes over and over. I think we have lots of leaders, but not very many mature leaders that have taken up a relationship with their own fears. If a leader is controlled by fear, they cannot serve and they end up just hurting others.


For an elder or parent responsibility is something we take, we must step into this with all the confidence in the world. This is a relationship and no one is there to give us this responsibility. I think until we become a parent it's hard to even imagine what this means. When we bring the new born child home, they cry, they soil themselves, they need to be fed and held, and they have all these needs. No one tells you what you are responsible for, you simply see the needs and become their answer. You take the responsibility for meeting the needs in your newborn and then you figure out how as you go along. This happens in adult life too, perhaps you are the owner of a company, or a pastor of a church and you take responsibility for the needs of those in your care.


Our emotional fears impede us from either assuming or taking responsibility. Taking a relationship up with our own fears is the answer for us.


Equals vs Dependents

What also influences us are the two very different ways in which we relate in society and our understanding of human behavior. A leader is a leader among equals, but a parent or elder is a provider for a dependent, the parent is not equal to the child. We are okay thinking of a baby being dependent, but very quickly we consider anyone older as equals. They need to be independent and self-sufficient, able to fit into society. Here we begin to uncover a cognitive bias, that is a "fear of hierarchy".


In our western world, we hold dear and close the idea that no person is better than another. We can trace these roots back to democracy which was greatly influenced by Protestant ideas. Jesus tells us time and time again in the Gospels: "the first will be last and the last will be first". These ideas were also a reaction to Monarchists of old who believed that kings and queens had the right to rule over people because the kings and queens were chosen by God. This too we see in the Bible, such as Romans 13:2, "Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment."

As a result of holding close to the ideas of equality, we have this cognitive bias against hierarchies. We push back against the idea that we are to "Obey your leaders and submit to them." Indeed it is good to push back when we feel coercion, this pushing back makes way for relating as equals and to value every person. However because we have this bias for the end result, that of equality, there is wisdom in this hierarchical relating that we too easily miss.


Hierarchical Relating


To be in close relationship we must either be the dependent or the provider. We are moved by instinct to assume one