Insights & Perspectives

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What Does it Mean to Be a Fearless Leader?

What would it look like if the frontline leaders in your business were truly fearless?

What does it even mean to be “fearless?” You might think “bold,” “daring,” or “heroic.” Although being fearless in the workplace can often look like that, to us at Definity being fearless means much more.

To understand what it truly means to be a fearless frontline leader, along with some of the ways we inadvertently prevent leaders from giving their best, let me tell you a little story... 



I started my career in manufacturing as a frontline supervisor where I experienced firsthand how pressures from all directions can result in beliefs and actions that are anything but fearless. As a matter of fact, I have seen that the majority of the people in any given manufacturing facility are more often fearful than fearless. Fearful of making a mistake, of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, or, in the worst case, of losing their job if they step out of line.

Anyway, back to my story.  I was tasked with forming a team to solve an ergonomic issue that impacted operator safety. I led a team of engineers that worked diligently to solve the issue. I’ll never forget the moment the team and I stood on the shop floor putting the finishing touches on the plan for our highly engineered solution when a machine operator hesitantly spoke up and asked, “Nobody asked me, but I don’t understand why you don’t just turn the machine around!”

My team members and I turned and looked at each other first with skeptical, then embarrassed grins, thinking “Can it really be that simple?” Twenty minutes later the problem was solved with no capital investment!  The answer had been there all along in the mind of this machine operator. Why didn’t we find it earlier?

We didn’t ask.

Why don’t we ask? That is the million-dollar question.



If you think a fearless leader needs to be a superhero with all the answers, then you’re missing out. Being fearless doesn’t mean you have all of the answers. Being fearless means you are a humble, open-minded leader who isn’t afraid of letting others take credit, come up with their own ideas, or even “trump” your ideas with better ones. If you are a fearless leader your team knows they can speak up, give great ideas, and help improve your operations without the fear of being shot down or ridiculed if their ideas don’t work.  The theory holds true from the executive leadership team to frontline leaders in your organization. 

Keep this in mind: a leader is paid to get results, not have all of the answers.

It isn’t always easy—becoming fearless will push your leaders beyond their comfort zone. Most leaders believe they get paid to be the one who know what to do next in any given situation, but a team of (informed) minds will almost always outperform one person. That has been proven over and over again.

We describe fearless leaders as being empathetic, respectful, humble, open-minded and caring. They accept and recognize the fact that they don’t know everything and appreciate the fact that they have developed a team of “thinkers” that contribute to the organization. A fearless leader definitely has fears, but they face their fears head-on and learn, develop and grow.

We’ve helped hundreds of leaders take the challenge to become fearless, and have seen the incredible impact that has on company culture, morale, productivity, efficiency, and profit.



If you didn’t catch it, be sure to check out the video tribute I created about Mike Stilwell. He’s a perfect example of a fearless frontline leader. Did it come easily for him? Not at all. To begin with, he didn’t see himself as a great leader. One of his prominent fears was his fear of public speaking. We worked with Mike to help him overcome this fear—first with his own team, and later when presenting to executives. The fact that he had to push through his fears doesn’t mean he was a weak leader. On the contrary, his courage to grow is part of what made him one of the most inspiring examples of a fearless leader I’ve ever known.

Fearless leaders have the same fears as the rest of us—but they face them head-on.

Do you know a frontline leader who should be recognized for their excellence? We are honored to sponsor the Fearless Frontline Leader Awards. I encourage you to nominate a frontline leader from your organization that leads fearlessly.  Let’s recognize the unsung heroes that are leading the resurgence of manufacturing in America!





Written by:
Rich Cary