A New Model: The Terrified Leader

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


In all the stuff you see and hear about leadership, it’s interesting to me that nobody ever mentions fear, except maybe to confirm the obvious: That a good leader should never show any.

I’m not sure I’m on that page. While it probably would have been a bad idea for Winston Churchill to broadcast that the German Luftwaffe scared the daylights out of him; or for Neil Armstrong to say, as he set foot on the moon, ‘I’m pretty much scared s*#tless’, I have no trouble acknowledging that I go through very many business days (and nights) with a fair knot residing right in the middle of my stomach.

I think it’s a reasonable suggestion that if more leaders would specifically acknowledge the things that are terrifying them, it might actually lessen the fear around their company or team, and might instead build confidence. Putting the fear right out on the table identifies the ‘elephant in the room’ that everyone else already knows is there, and frees everyone up to attack it. People may be relieved to know that the boss isn’t off in la la land, and actually knows where the really scary stuff is. It will help everyone relax a bit (and focus more), and maybe it will enable other people to open up about the issues that are scaring them (which could only be a good thing).

And besides, everyone knows (or they should) that the arrogant buffoon, who in the face of mounting peril tells everyone that things are just fine, is really a quivering glob of pudding inside anyway.

So, I’m just throwing out a contrarian suggestion. Want to be an inspiring leader? Want to move mountains? Tell everyone how just terrified you really are.