By Tonya Jackman Hampton | February 18, 2019

“Be fearless”. This phrase is something we hear all too often in both our professional and personal circles.  However, fear is part of our brain’s hardwiring.  We need emotions like fear to help us make decisions and keep us safe from things we believe are harmful. Emotions, like fear, are triggered when our brain interacts with our biases. Bias is the inclination to judge without question, attention, or control whereas fear has been defined as a high level of emotional arousal caused by perceiving a significant and personally relevant threat. They are both immediate and reactionary.

Interview responses from 25 leaders resulted in the finding of 4 distinct types of fear, and how to positively overcome them. Click To Tweet

In my research, interview responses from 25 leaders resulted in the finding of four distinct types of fear. This research was conducted, and is ongoing, as a way to define how leaders can respond differently to fear, and make a correlative impact on diversity, inclusion, and belonging within organizations or communities.

By acknowledging, understanding, and identifying the four types of fears, leaders can develop strategies to mitigate the initial inclination to take flight, fight, or freeze. Leaders can alter their response to fear and use it instead as a tool for building confidence, attempting challenging tasks, and positively engaging with others.

The 25 leadership interviews conducted revealed underlying themes from which four types of fears emerged:


Fear of non-achievement: These fears are result- or outcome-based, meaning the participant had a fear of not achieving their desired results.

Fear of loss of credibility: Another set of the fears were based on the loss of credibility, loss of organizational support, not being accepted by others, or being uninspiring during presentations.

Fear of uncertainty and the unknown: This type of fear can show up when interacting with others, challenging situations, problems, or unfamiliar experiences.

Fear of jeopardizing their integrity, power, or influence:  Leaders with this fear do not want to be involved in activities that challenge their ability to meet their own or a perceived level of success.


Each type of fear is also interrelated. Leaders feel if they do not achieve their intended results, they will become uncertain, lose their credibility and integrity, and fail. In addition, they feel if they do not act on their fears, they will be unaccepted, rejected, inadequate, and their work will fall short or flop. These fears often result in imagined negative outcomes, exacerbating them further. By having a strong understanding of the four types of fear, leaders can prepare differently to address their fears and improve outcomes.

By knowing the type of fear you have, you are better prepared to prevent yourself from the typical flight, fight, or freeze response. The alternative to a flight, fight, or freeze response is to “do” and take the steps to respond positively. A simple way to start this is by imagining positive outcomes as opposed to negative ones. Instead of fearing failure or loss of credibility, imagine instead that you achieve greater acceptance, success, and results. The positive response and preparation process includes five steps:

1. Maintain positive self-talk

2. Engage and interact with your emotions

3. Share your fears with others

4. Visualize positive outcomes

5. Plan and execute

Within the field of #diversity and #inclusion, fear is often at the intersection. Click To Tweet

Learning more about your fears is a unique experience that contributes to your growth, and capability to help others and your organization. Within the field of diversity and inclusion, fear is often at the intersection. Knowing these five steps toward managing fear will allow you to impact the work you and your organization do to build an inclusive workplace.

Whether your next risk is to create a diversity and inclusion strategy, engage in a critical conversation within your organization, present to an employee resource group, or hire for a position, try out these five steps to make progress and act. By doing so, you’ll have built up your capacity to respond to the four types of fear now and in the future.

Use these 5 steps to overcome the 4 types of leadership fears. Click To Tweet

Please consider helping enhance my research by taking this short, anonymous survey about your fears.

Tonya Jackman Hampton is a Principal Consultant with Cook Ross. She is a strategic executive and consultant in Human Resources, Talent and Organizational Development, and Diversity and Inclusion. Tonya holds nearly 25 years of professional experience committed to sustaining work environments and cultures that promote inclusion and engagement by relying on diversity of people, perspective, and experience to achieve the company’s mission, goals, and values.