A great deal has been written about entrepreneurs and organizational leaders dealing with their fear. I’ve written about it myself.

I have to admit, I always thought that it was fear that holds us back from being the leaders we want to be: bold, courageous, inspiring.

Not so. Brene Brown, everyone’s favorite vulnerability expert, reports from her research in her latest book, Dare to Lead, that it’s not fear that holds us back as leaders. It’s the response to that fear.

It’s your thoughts, feelings, and your behavior in response to your fear. It’s your armor.

Brave leaders aren’t immune from fear. Some experience it every day. If you’re pushing your edge, reaching out to do something new, being innovative, you’ll experience fear.

So it’s not fear itself that’s the barrier to great leadership.

It’s the response to fear. The armor that goes up to protect you when you feel fearful.

How does your armor show up? Do you shut down? Do you lash out?

It can look very different from the outside, but within us, it’s all armor.

Your responses, your thoughts and emotions, affect your behavior.

When you’re armored, when you’re not willing to ‘rumble with vulnerability’, as Brene puts it. When you’re not willing to do the work of vulnerability, you’re moving right out of alignment with what you value, with your intended impact.

With your armored behavior, you lose trust with your team, your colleagues. You forget that you meant to be courageous. You lose touch with your ability to be so.

While fear is at the heart of all armor, and you could argue that if you deal with your fear, you will be a better leader, the armor is what people see. The armor is how you behave.

Armor gets to be a habit. We often respond to fear in ways that are more reflective of our childhood situations than what is happening in the present. That armor served us then. Now? Not so much.

Let’s be clear: armor is not the same as healthy boundaries. You need to have boundaries as a leader to define what you are and are not prepared to accept. Armor is different. Armor blocks you from true presence and meaningful interaction.

The deepest work is to deal with your fear. But sometimes, it enough to just deal with your armor. To put it in business terms, shedding armor is the tactical goal, while shedding fear is the strategic one.

Tactical goals are faster and easier to achieve than strategic ones. So addressing your armor gets you past what’s holding you back as a leader.

Whether you’re dealing with the visible tactic of armoring or the underlying ‘strategy’ of fear, it’s valuable to have awareness of your armor so you can begin to choose to behave differently. Here are a couple of examples:

In armored leadership, you ‘know’ and are right. In daring, courageous leadership, you learn and work collaboratively to get it right.

Nobody wants to be Cliff Clavin (from the popular 90s sitcom, Cheers). As was the case with Cliff, research has shown that know-it-alls are generally less informed. As leaders, it can feel safer to ‘know’ rather than be curious. It can feel easier. Besides, most of us want our beliefs to be validated, if only to avoid the discomfort of having to examine another perspective.

Learners are curious and have, well, learned to be open to other perspectives. Curiosity overcomes the discomfort of not knowing.

Carol Dweck in her wonderful book, Mindset, explained that a fixed mindset is one that assumes abilities and understanding are relatively fixed. That’s what happens when you plunk on the armor. Your ideas become more unmovable.

A growth mindset, on the other hand, assumes that abilities and understanding can be developed. When the armor’s off, you’re not protecting and you can learn.

Having a growth mindset can help you move past your armor.

Armored leadership can also show up as wanting compliance and control. In daring, courageous leadership, you cultivate commitment and shared purpose.

Which kind of leader do you think has more impact? A compliance and control leader, or one that cultivates commitment and shared purpose? Which kind of leader allows her team and company to have more impact?

Tugging off the armor is an ongoing job, especially the armor that’s been your boon companion for a lifetime.

We’re all a work in progress. It’s this kind of work that, as a leader in your organization, makes the difference in the impact you have.

Increase the awareness of your own armor. Work with someone to help you recognize it when it pops up and dismantle it to find your own daring and courage. You’ll be a better leader for it.

Full disclosure: if you use the Amazon links in this article to buy, I’ll receive a small payment from Amazon.

Author's Bio: 

Ursula Jorch is a speaker, business coach and consultant who helps entrepreneurs grow a successful business that makes a difference in the world. A 21-year successful entrepreneur herself, Ursula helps you define the difference you want to make in the world and develop strategy and marketing so you have ever-expanding impact.

Find Ursula on her podcast, Work Alchemy: The Impact Interviews where she interviews impactful entrepreneurs and leaders like Seth Godin and Marianne Williamson, and at WorkAlchemy.com for free resources for you and your business.

This article was originally published at https://www.workalchemy.com/leadership-fear-armor and has been syndicated with permission.