Facing the Fear of Thought Leadership

I remember reading some writing advice once (though I cannot remember who said it — ping me if you know) that said: when writing you should aim to make yourself laugh, make yourself cry, make yourself feel something, and you’ll make your reader feel that, too.

It’s good advice. But what do you do when the feeling you feel is… fear?

(And, just to be clear, we’re not talking about writing horror or a thriller!)

When you step into the role of “thought leader” with your content, at first it feels fine — this is your expertise, your zone of genius, after all.

Those will be the first ideas you come up with when thinking about the topics you might want to explore.

But then you’ll dig a little deeper, shift aside that first layer, uncover some uncomfortable truths that nonetheless make you sit up and think, oh.

You’ll feel a sense if excitement, a nervousness, a sensation around your solar plexus that you can’t ignore. Everything is telling you that this is the topic you need to be sharing with the world.

And… it may scare the beejebus out of you.

The fear is real

First, this is super normal.

Most of us — especially women and people with other marginalized identities — have been conditioned not to stir up controversy, not to rock the boat, not to offend people or upset the status quo. (For some, it is legitimately unsafe to do so — and frequently not their job.)

I remember early on in my content marketing career, I took a course from a well known (white, male) expert about blogging, and one of his recommendations was to take rail against common beliefs in your industry specifically to stir people up. He recommended it as an engagement tactic, because he felt that even if people were leaving hate comments on your post, that’s still engagement and publicity.

And I remember recoiling from the very idea. It made me feel sick to my stomach to imagine that I might invite people to get mad at me or leave negative comments on my blog!

Of course, there is a world of distance between being uncomfortable and having actual violent words shared against us.

If we want to be a leader, we are going to have to say things that are uncomfortable, that go against what’s common in our industry or in the world. People are going to disagree with us. And, being that this is the internet after all, some of them may disagree loudly and be rude or even nasty about it (though, I promise, that extreme is probably a lot less likely than you fear!).

My point is: If you feel afraid of speaking whatever truth you are called to share, it’s important to acknowledge that your fear comes from a legitimate place. It’s been conditioned into many of us by our culture or our past traumas that it is unsafe to speak our truth. And we’ve seen examples of people being called out or called in when they get something wrong, and it’s always uncomfortable, even when the person handles it well.

I’ll be super real with you right now: I’m feeling that uncomfortable sensation as I write these paragraphs because this is outside my comfort zone to talk about.

But what that also tells me is that it is important to talk about.

And my fear doesn’t mean I should stay quiet.

The fear doesn’t have to define or derail you.

I asked my dear friend and coach, Tanya Geisler, what she would tell someone facing down fear of becoming a thought leader — fear of what people will think, say, or do when we speak that uncomfortable truth.

Tanya’s work centers around understanding and overcoming Imposter Complex, and I’ve invited her to be our first guest speaker in the Thought Leader Lab because I know for a fact this fear is going to show up for people when they start finding the true nuggets they want to share as thought leaders.

Am I good enough to share this?
Am I really enough of a leader to be taken seriously?
Who am I to call myself a thought leader?
Shouldn’t I do some more research before I publish this?

And so on.

Tanya does a lot of work with people around choosing and embodying a new identity — like the role of thought leader — exploring the fears, blocks, and lies that come up when we are making a big change.

On fear of sharing thought leadership content, she said to me,

I have a feeling it has something to do with the permanence of declaring ourselves a thought leader, or taking a stand on an issue. If we make a claim does that mean that we are beholden to that claim forever and ever and ever amen?

And I think that this is a trap. It’s called evolution, and we are allowed to evolve our thinking. In fact that’s our job as thought leaders.

It’s a variation on the lies the Imposter Complex likes to tell us — that we’re not ready, not expert enough, not good enough to be the truth teller, so wear that mantle, to take that stand.

Tanya also said, “People pleasers in particular will struggle with saying something that not everybody agrees with. But just because people don’t agree doesn’t make it wrong.

Practice makes… better (but never perfect)

Here’s what I know for sure about fear and thought leadership:

The only way to overcome the fear is to practice facing it.

Which sucks, but it’s true.

I used to feel a lot of fear around selling and telling people my prices. I felt this fear when I was charging $ 50 for a 2,000-word blog post, and I feel it now when I tell somebody about our $ 21,000 launch package.

A couple of weeks ago, I got on a call with a very nice lady who said: “I can’t imagine I would ever see an ROI on blog posts at that price. Can’t I do it myself for free?”

A few years ago? That would have absolutely derailed me. I would have spent the next week or more wondering if my work had any value, wondering if she was right, working on ways I could prove myself and my ROI better…

But because I’ve been practicing this ish by necessity for the last nine years, I laughed pleasantly and said, “You absolutely can do it yourself for free. And we’ll be here when you decide it’s not a good use of your time.”

BOOM.

Did the fear go away completely? Of course not. But by practicing standing in that truth — which I 100% believe, by the way — it’s become easier and easier for me to own it.

Of course, now I’m feeling fear around new truths I’m learning to own. That won’t ever go away.

But I can rest easier knowing that it will get easier.

So, it seems to me, if you feel that little thrill of fear when you think about owning a new identity as a thought leader, or sharing a truth that is outside your comfort zone, you have two choices.

You can sit and stew in that fear and never share the message you desperately want to get out into the world.

Or you can feel the fear and do it anyway, as that super annoyingly correct maxim suggests.

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Author: Lacy Boggs

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