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Keep fear and anxiety at bay as a leader

Brain Circuits

Take control of fear and anxiety to be a better leader 

IbyIMD+ Published 27 October 2023 in Brain Circuits • 4 min read

It’s important not to let fear control your decision-making in trying times. Stay calm and find purpose in the present to help your team navigate times of crisis. 

Leading in times of crisis can be very challenging. Just because you are in a leadership role doesn’t mean you’re not experiencing fear, anxiety and worry. However, you need to be able to manage these emotions and be a model of resilience to best help your team navigate tough terrain. 

Do I lead others before leading myself? 

If you are in a negative state, one in which you are filled with discouragement and fear, you are not going to be able to lead others effectively.  

Solution: lead yourself first.

First, pause to take control of yourself. Focus on what you can learn from a difficult situation. Don’t dwell on the negative or what could go wrong. 

Am I a psychological hostage?

Being a psychological hostage means that your emotions are controlled by the event or thing that’s happening around you, meaning that the situation can quickly spiral out of control. As a psychological hostage, you feel powerless, even when you are not. 

Solution: Deal with your fears.

Taking time to focus on what is happening in the moment will help you to handle even the worst situations and their consequences. 

Are my emotions getting in the way? 

The mind’s eye is directed to a large extent by emotions. So, whether you are feeling grief and fear or sadness or anger, you need to take deep breaths and find a way to come back to a state of authentic joy.  

Solution: Direct your mind’s eye.

Guiding your mind’s eye means being able to look at perception, or what you call reality, and see beyond the obvious.   

Am I ruled by fear?

If you focus on bad things that are happening and the negative talk and fears that surround your situation, it is easy to get discouraged or filled with fear.  

Solution: Shift to the positive.

You can easily do this simply by focusing on the present. You don’t want to be in denial; we need to acknowledge that there are threats and there is a crisis. But you have to manage the perceptions and focus on what is really unfolding. 

To manage your mindset and your emotions and come back to the idea of playing to win, you need to see beyond what your eye can see. This is the power of the mind’s eye. There are always opportunities out there. Good things will happen to you again. you can find meaning and purpose in what is happening. Even in the most catastrophic situations, there is something you can learn. Focusing on that will help you start to see the possibilities. 

Managing yourself is a leadership process. As you come out of a crisis, give yourself credit for having weathered the storm: it makes you a stronger person and one better able to model emotional resilience for your team


George Kohlrieser

George Kohlrieser

Distinguished Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour at IMD

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD and Director of the High Performance Leadership program. He serves as a consultant to several global companies including Accenture, Amer Sports, Borealis, Cisco, Coca-Cola, HP, Hitachi, IBM, IFC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Morgan Stanley, Motorola, NASA, Navis, Nestlé, Nokia, Pictet, Rio Tinto, Roche, Santander, Swarovski, Sara Lee, Tetra Pak, Toyota, and UBS.


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