The False Self Series, Part 9: Fear Makes Me Play it Safe

I recently listened to an Emotional Healthy Leader Podcast episode by Pete Scazzero (The September 6 episode, Silencing the Seductive Voice of Your False Self) that greatly impacted me. In the episode, Pete said, “one of the most destructive temptations leaders face is living and leading from the veneer of the false self.” He then listed ten examples of how this can happen. 

These examples made sense to me — and I think they’ll resonate with you too. In the upcoming weeks, I’ll talk about all ten. I am doing this because overcoming the false self is the best way to head into 2023. Leadership is about doing things with and through other people, so leading yourself past your false self is step one to leading effectively.

The False Self Series, Part 9: Fear Makes Me Play it Safe

Last fall, I started my talk at the MAPP Benchmarking conference by telling 500+ attendees that I fear death — and as one who follows Christ, I was embarrassed to admit that publicly. Why? Because as someone who has scoured the evidence of the resurrection, I find it hard to believe that ten of Jesus’ earliest apostles would be martyred for something they KNEW was false. After all, their claim was having SEEN the risen Jesus, not a declaration of any kind of “belief.”  

Fear, our subject today, is not rational. From deep matters like death to personal matters like one-on-one relationships, fears can tempt us to live from the false self. Put succinctly, fears can tempt us to portray the confidence of a fearLESS leader, while living a “play it safe” life.  

Fear Takes a Toll

When discussing fears with other leaders, the conversation quickly shifts to the external. For example, should one change jobs, move states, or go for a promotion? Fear hinders us from making wise choices and also takes a toll on us by convincing us not to take risks in our relationships — which brings out our false selves. 

Is this related to Part 7, not speaking up?  Absolutely. After all, the root cause of not speaking up is fear, so we play it safe. 

Let’s be honest, one of the reasons leaders are followable is because they are courageous. But beware; this is an area where it is easy to slip into the false self — the one that projects courage when there is little to none internally. We may be tempted to believe that only we know when we’re putting up a front, but the reality is that our followers can easily pick up on it when we act in ways contrary to our normal personality or from our false selves. 

For example, we might speak more forcefully to overcompensate for our fear, making us sound (so we think) strong. But, in reality, we sound weak and fearful. 

Part of the Human Condition

Fear might be the hardest part of our hearts to share with others because culture and history have taught us that leaders are not fearful. But while courage may be what they are projecting, what makes them worth following is that they act even when fear is in their heart. Fear is simply part of the human condition.

What if we were the kind of leaders that made our fears visible to others? Would that make us less competent or more? Would we appear weaker or stronger? Would we be living from the false self or the authentic one? 

I am not suggesting that this is easy. Nor am I suggesting that everyone will think we are strong, competent, or even good leaders. I simply suggest we should be authentic — a leader whose internal and external states align. Alignment leads to the authentic self, the one others seek to follow. 

Remember, there is no claim in this series that leading from the real self will help you in your pursuit of greatness. This is not about greatness at all. It is about authenticity and living from your real self.  

The next time fear percolates, I want you to take a deep breath and accept it. You are human. Fear may be part of your story, as it is part of every leader’s story, but it is not your whole story. Exhale the deep breath and realize that your true self can keep going. You are not in denial. You are you. This means that whatever it is that you need to do, you can do. You do not need to play it safe anymore. 

When we accept our fears and move forward with them in tow, we can learn to live lives of meaning with less stress and tension. More on this next week when I wrap up this series.