Leadership, Fear, and Other Thoughts (Part 3)

By | October 24, 2019

[October 24, 2019]  U.S. Army General. George S. Patton once noted, “If we take the generally accepted definition of bravery as a quality which knows no fear, I have never seen a brave man.” Patton clearly understood that fear can be a great motivator to succeed in battle.  It can also be the greatest of all motivators.

Fear is a primitive instinct that has served humans since the dawn of our age.  It still serves us well today.  When we experience fear, for example, we never forgot where we were and what we were doing.  Our most vivid memories are born in fear.  The adrenaline etches them into our brains.

Fear is also corrupting.  It has been said that it’s not power that truly corrupts but fear itself.  “Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”1  This is why we study history.  Politicians are especially prone to the corrupting influence of fear and so we regularly read about them succumbing to its sway.

Fear can also paralyze.  Being such a powerful motivator, there are those who cannot withstand the pressure.  The classic “deer in the headlights” condition will freeze free thinking and stifle creativity.  But it can also push us to our greatest achievements.

Those who wish to manipulate us use fear as a motivator.  Look no further than the current U.S. Presidential race and what those in the competition are saying about the dangers of climate change, racism/sexism/etc., and income inequality.  Fear is used to sell us almost everything; cars, insurance, and anti-bacterial soap are classics.  It is also used in propaganda.

The benefits to fear as a motivator usually outweigh its downside.  Fear is often associated with some form of personal growth; if it doesn’t kill us, it makes us stronger.  Even when fear made us try something new and failed, at least we can say we tried.  People who embrace their fears by admitting they are frightened (telling the truth to one’s self), are also happier, better developed, and more equipped to handle the ups and downs in life.

I, for one, vote for fear.  But as a social tool, the danger is great.

This article is last of a 3-part series on “fear.”  I hope you enjoy this mini-series on professional development.  Please comment so that we can add to our understanding.

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  1. Diplomat Aung San Suu Kyi.
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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “Leadership, Fear, and Other Thoughts (Part 3)

  1. Darwin Lippe

    What a wonderful 3-part series on FEAR. This is why I love this leadership website. General Satterfield, what you are doing here is an invaluable service.

  2. Max Foster

    The upside and downside of fear is generally well known. What is less known is that fear is just as powerful today as it was thousands of years ago. What we fear is different, perhaps, but it scares us nonetheless. We are not that different physically from our ancestors. True, we are physically bigger but that doesn’t mean we are smarter. Fear continue to motivate and will do so forever. Leaders should be aware of this fact.

    1. Dale Paul Fox

      Good points again, Max and so thanks. I believe that most people in the West are so calmed by drugs, money, and an easy life that they believe that simple scary movies is what fear is about. Hardly true. They simply do not know real fear; the kind that goes to your core.

    2. Len Jakosky

      Yes! Dominating fear takes a strong person. There is no such thing as conquering fear – Gen. Satterfield’s main theme.

  3. Harry Donner

    Fear of failure
    Fear of success
    Fear of dying
    Fear of commitment
    Phobias
    Fear of rejection
    … but most important, fear of the UNKNOWN

    1. Kenny Foster

      Hi Harry. Did you read Part 1? It lays out Dr. Peterson’s 4 levels of fear and I think it includes all you have here. Good to see you on again. Thanks.

  4. Nick Lighthouse

    Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
    My favorite quote from the Bible.

    1. Greg Heyman

      Correct. Fear is written about in all the ancient philosophical texts. It’s not that we have vanquished fear today, we have just masked it with our technological prowess.

  5. Jerome Smith

    Another excellent series that I’m sad to see end. Fear is more important than most of us realize. It’s primitive, innate, and has the greatest motivation on all our behaviors. Keep up the great works! 😊

  6. JT Patterson

    An excellent end to your series on fear. I believe you could have written another 5 or 6 articles on the implications of fear and what it does to so many of us. We are, of course, human and thus subject to emotions that motivate and demotivate. I liked the series. Keep it up and I look forward to more articles on fear in the future.
    If you really want to learn more about fear, here is a great reference:
    On Fear
    by Jiddu Krishnamurti

    1. Tony Custer

      Good call. Jiddu Krishnamurti argues that the voice of fear makes the mind dull and insensitive, and argues that the roots of hidden fears, which limit us and from which we constantly seek escape

      1. Jane Fillmore

        I’m learning more about “fear” than I ever did in college by simply reading this webpage.

  7. Army Captain

    I enjoyed your 3 part series on Fear. Well done! I have to deal with the issue almost daily. Not because I’m concerned my men will be killed in war so much as dealing with how to overcome fear of career failure, marital breakup, etc. In a society where moral courage is in short supply, I have my job made that more difficult.

    1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Yes, good series and educational. I liked it when Gen. Satterfield drew parallels between telling the truth and fear. Very brainy if you ask me. Thanks Army Captain for your service.

    2. Yusaf from Texas

      Sadly, I must agree with you Army Capt because, YES, moral courage is lacking. For that matter so is physical courage. But I digress. We have a generation of me me me who can’t seem to think of anything but themselves. I once lived in a socialist country and have visited them often. I see the people there the same as our young here.

      1. Albert Ayer

        This is what is so tough about socialism. It destroys before you see it coming.

  8. Roger Yellowmule

    I refer readers to the Daily Favorites section of Gen. Satterfield’s blog. Read the first article today about how Mark Zuckerberg grins while being taken to task over his alleged idea that he “is above the law.”

    1. apache2

      People like him believe they are above the law because all of us ‘deplorables’ are not smart, sophisticated, or “cool.” Thank you, General Satterfield, for the series. Great stuff here.

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