While in the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his first inaugural address as President of the United States, stated, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Given the condition of the economy and the people of the United States, Roosevelt undoubtedly had reason to fear, but did not give in to it. He was a true leader. He rallied the people of this country by appealing to their deepest values, reminding them that their loss was only material—that it did not take the people’s resolve to make changes that would move the country forward. He refused to allow the country to be immobilized by fear, but rather used his leadership to galvanize the populous into action.
Courage in the face of fear can lead to greatness, whereas immobilizing fear can lead to regret at best, failure at worst. As a young woman, I experienced both.
I remember driving to the Federal Center in Detroit to take the test for my third class radio license, a requirement to be a radio announcer at a small radio station in Whitehall, Michigan where I’d been promised a job spinning records for the summer. It was a beautiful day in May, the month of my twentieth birthday, and I was excited about the possibilities that lay ahead for me in the world of broadcasting. Over 200 people sat for the test that day and I was the only female in the room.
That same year, I served as an ambassador for the National Cherry Industry, and on the heels of learning I’d passed the licensing test, I went on a week-long tour across the US and Canada, representing Michigan’s Cherry Growers. We traveled from Montreal to Vancouver and then to Los Angeles, California where a group of us were invited to attend the Lawrence Welk Show that was playing at the Hollywood Palladium.
That night, Welk’s long-time announcer, Ralph Portner, graciously asked me to dance. He inquired about me and discovered that I was a college student about to begin my summer job as an announcer on a local radio station back home. He told me that I’d need a radio name and suggested I use MJ, Your Private DJ. I liked the sound of it and told him so. He then added, “You’ll also need something to set you apart. I’m going to send you Words of Wisdom, a book of quotes. Every day find a good quote with which to end your show. That way you can sign off each show by saying, ‘This is MJ, Your Private DJ signing off with a word of wisdom.’ Then share the quote.” I was amazed and flattered by the personal interest he took in me.”
Following that trip, wherever Lawrence Welk’s Band was working, whether in Lake Tahoe or Reno or LA, Mr. Portner would send me a quick postcard [Hi Stranger…Face getting brighter – pockets lighter- truly beautiful country. How’s your progress? Have been gorging on the big Bing cherries – and I love ‘em – Show going over ‘real big’ – Best of thoughts. Sincerely, Ralph Portner] or, on several occasions, an encouraging letter. Much to my regret, I never wrote back. Because of my own insecurity, I was afraid that if I wrote to him, he’d discover that I wasn’t the person he thought I was and change his mind about the talent he saw in me. And so I allowed my fear to stand in the way of stepping into the opportunity that he was offering me at a very young age to be mentored by one of the best voices on radio and TV. Eventually, Mr. Portner stopped writing.
Decades have passed since then and not a year has gone by that I don’t think of the gift he’d held out to me, and how I, out of fear, neglected to accept his gift, learn what I could, and grow from it. The good news is that my deepest regret turned into the impetus that drove me to make cold calls when starting my business twenty six years ago. I had learned to feel the fear and do it anyway.
Leaders are not blocked or stopped by fear. It’s not that they don’t experience it; they do. They simply choose to face their fears and act in spite of it, and when a door of opportunity opens,they step through that door, realizing that they have all they need inside themselves to take advantage of what is being made available to them. When performance insufficencies demand new approaches to situations and changes have to be made, leaders are able to identify and confront their fears so they don’t immobilize themselves or the organization. Sometimes leaders have to make hard choices that require them to give up one thing in order to try another way of operating, but they realize that they cannot move forward when looking backward; that it’s mandatory to give up the known to move towards a more promising future.
Be Your Own Coach:
1) What changes are being required of you and what is it you find fearful about them? What do you think might happen to you if you make the change? What is the probability of that happening?
2) What actions can you take to minimize the consequences of the thing(s) you fear most?