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Dancing with the Amygdala

When I was an Executive Director, I remember many sleepless nights, lying awake, mentally ticking off the list of Things That Could Go Wrong.  The carousel of anxiety rotated round and round to the tune of fundraising fears, staff issues or student concerns.  Even when things were going well, the gremlins could always sneak out and whisper about how the other shoe could drop at any moment.

The nature of leading an enterprise--particularly one that is focused on solving big problems--is scary.  It's daring, it's courageous and seemingly foolhardy.  It is facing down a tremendous social problem, knowing that the challenge is formidable and refusing to be a passive bystander.  No retreat, no surrender.  

But the courage to make great change happen is hampered by your amygdala.

The amydala is the oldest and most primitive part of your brain.  It is responsible for the memory of emotions, fear being the most prevalent.  This is the part of the brain that responds to real or perceived danger and stimulates a fear, flight or freeze response. 

The amygdala was super-helpful when saber tooth tigers roamed the Earth and not so helpful in modern-day New York.  

The act of creation, of taking a risk, of building something great is scary and your amygdala is great at serving up about a million reasons why not to do something.  

Know that it’s your amygdala trying to keep you safe. Say thank you, but shut up. In order for us to lead courageously and to boldly go where no Executive Director has gone before, we must know and then quiet this chattery, jumpy amygdala.  We know it's there howling its little song into the wind, but it does not serve us to be the fearless, bold, inspiring leaders we need to be in order to jump into the fray.  Great problems were never solved by mediocre solutions or weak leaders. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

leadership, Wisdomrhea