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What are you afraid of?

Has anyone asked you that lately? People usually ask the question when you’re hesitating to take a risk. Maybe you’re thinking of starting a new business, moving to a different town, changing careers, or running for office.

What is your deepest fear? The words of Marianne Williamson spring to mind:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

Interesting concept, isn’t it? We tend to think we are afraid of failure: the new business could go bankrupt; we might seriously regret the career change.

But what most of us truly fear is success . . . being “powerful beyond measure,” as Williamson says. We’re afraid that the new business could be so successful that it will require all our energy and talents. The career move might stretch us way beyond our comfort zone.

Something else frightens us: leadership. No, we’re not frightened of our leaders; we’re frightened of becoming leaders.

Most of us are quite content to live as followers. After all, it’s much easier to criticize if we are followers. There’s no risk, so we’re free to rock the boat. Object to a decision. Take potshots at the leaders. Criticize the church council, a synodical decision, politicians, or some other favorite target. There’s no risk.

At first blush, we might be afraid of assuming leadership because we worry that we’ll make a bad decision or say the wrong thing and consequently fall flat on our fannies. We don’t like to risk failure, so we don’t bother.

Being a strong, articulate, wise leader involves risks. Leaders are constantly stretched into brand-new areas. Everyone wants a piece of their wisdom. They are asked to succeed over and over again. Leaders have incredible influence over others—and it frightens some of them to death.

But if you dare to risk your pride and integrity by becoming a leader, others may decide to rise to the occasion too. If that happens, you no longer find yourself standing alone in a room full of followers. Instead you find yourself standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other leaders.

But don’t confuse leadership with power. True leadership has nothing to do with clinging to power; it has everything to do with giving power away. A true leader empowers others, mentors others. Leadership is all about sharing the workload, and sharing the glory as well as the fallout.

There is nothing noble about shrinking in our boots just so those around us won’t feel insecure. We need to rise to the occasion, dare to lead, and applaud as others take up the challenge.

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