If You Ran Into A Big Bear, What Would You Do?




This is one of my favorite questions to ask in my workshops to get everybody thinking and reflecting. When leaders are confronted with a challenging problem, team member or process, the way they react says a lot about their leadership style and strategy. Some of the responses I have gotten include:

“I would stay calm and think about my next move.”

“I would do an about face and leave.”

“I would look him in the eye.”

“I would scream!”

“I would freeze and hold my breath.”

All of these reactions describe how each of us deals with fear. Will you stay focused and calmly work through the roadblock or will you avoid it at all costs? Would you feel powerless and just become paralyzed or would you verbally vent your anger? How we typically respond to frightening situations is similar whether we experience them, professionally or personally. Additionally, if we lack the confidence or the belief that we can overcome the obstacle we face, we probably will be less successful in tackling it. So how can you more effectively deal with fear?

Define it: The first step in overcoming a fearful situation is to describe it clearly. What is the real challenge and what is just conjured up in our mind? Write it down in specific terms. Sometimes just getting the roadblock down on paper, takes away from its intimidation. By listing the different pieces, we get to separate out what to do first and what is the priority.

Own it: Once we have the details of the challenge, the next step is to admit it exists and is something worth pursuing. Take a deep breath and ask yourself- what is the best way to approach this issue? Say out loud what needs to be addressed, why it is a problem and how you will go about resolving it. By doing this, you are taking ownership of the fear and making a commitment to fully evaluate it.

Pulverize it: The final step is to calmly destroy the fear factor by dealing directly with the obstacle. If the concern involves another person, speak with them frankly and honestly, while still being respectful. Use specifics and share with them how they are coming across. Help them to find more successful ways to interact and still get their needs met. By making them aware, you are empowering them to recognize new ways to communicate and connect with others.

Now I am going to switch the question around: What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, asked this question to graduates at a recent commencement ceremony. What a great way to understand your fears by thinking of what you would do if you weren’t afraid. What path or journey would you pursue if you were not fearful? What challenge or roadblock would you tackle to achieve something important to you? What is your dream if you could do anything? Just three steps to overcoming your fear to accomplishing your passion:

  • Define it
  • Own it
  • Pulverize it

Lead without being afraid. Reach for what is important to you. Don’t let the BIG BEAR stop you!


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21 thoughts on “If You Ran Into A Big Bear, What Would You Do?


    I ask a similar question in my workshops and it has to do with a sinking boat.

    I love the bear question!

    It is a great ending to your post when you ask, “what would you do if you were not afraid!”

    Thanks for sharing your brilliance.
    Lead From Within

  2. Three critical steps to overcoming any roadblock or challenge! You make it feel so do-able! Truly understanding and owning the problem let’s us conquer it too. It’s funny, this weekend I was on a walk with my daughter and I saw a dingo running on our right and I very calmly told her to run as fast as she can. I’m much slower and figured if it’s wild and decided to attack, it could get me but my job was to keep her safe. In the heat of the moment, we truly step up in strange and amazing ways. Thanks, Terri!

  3. Thanks Lolly for your generous support! The sinking boat metaphor is fabulous- I will keep it in mind. I ended the post that way because I really think people don’t reach for their heights because of fear: fear of not being good enough; fear of not being accepted; fear of failure. We need to see our gifts and follow those dreams. Thanks again!

  4. Boy Alli, your adventures in Australia seem endless! I could just keep listening to these stories and visualizing your life as you are so talented in painting a picture of your world in the outback! Keeping it simple is so important when dealing with fear, as you did with your daughter. Making things “do-able” as you say can be the very thing we need when we are frightened. Thanks for your great additions!

  5. Terri, a fantabulous post. Love the question re: the bear.

    Fight or flight mode is often created as a reaction to our amygdala’s response and yes it is Fear.

    Love the 3 points and my favorite is Pulverize it.

    Thank you for your beautiful insight.

  6. I so appreciate your comments, Lalita! The bear image usually gets people thinking about fear very quickly. It helps reawaken their feelings about being frightened and what that does to them. I’m with you- pulverizing just is the best action of all! Thanks again!

  7. A few years ago my wife and I visited Glacier National Park. On a trail to see “Hidden Lake” we were warned that a Grizzly Bear had been spotted in recent days coming close to the trail. It was a very winding trail so made sure to make a lot of noise each time we came a bend in the trail.

    As we returned, we did, in fact, see the Grizzly Bear not too far away. A Park Ranger had been stationed near the trail with his gun to be sure the bear didn’t get too close.

    Your post reminded me of that experience. So, my answer: Make a lot of noise!

    We had some fear, but walked on anyway. I guess you could say we defined it and owned it. I’m not quite sure what we wold have done, had the bear actually crossed out path. I’m not sure who would have pulverized who.

  8. Loved your bear story, Dan! Making a lot of noise is probably a great way to deal with our fears since it allows us to scare our inner demons far, far away! Fear can really generate a lot of anxiety, which in turn can paralyze leaders from staying clear and focused. We don’t want to panic so we need to really prepare and look it straight on. Thanks so much Dan!

  9. Terri!
    Ha! Am I allowed to comment?!
    I KNEW I was gonna have to deal with this PC today when I saw the title to your post! LOL

    Wonderful-wonderful post, I absolutely love it, especially the “if you were NOT afraid” question.

    Thank you for this. Printed, saved and shared!

  10. Beautiful post Terri !

    I say these days… “Run to your fear and your fear will runaway from you…”

    You are so right in that the way we react and feel the fear Inside of us very much determines our actions.

    You remind me of this significance as I chose each day to face my fears and stand tall in the face of adversity.

    Thank you for being there, appreciate you!


  11. What a great way to visualize fear and then think about how to handle it! Great post, Terri. It is interesting, too, in that I first inclination may be to run yet this is the last thing we should do. Getting control of our thoughts and thinking through our next steps (quickly!) are necessary skills in today’s workplace. Well done! Jon

  12. You are one funny lady, Amber-Lee! I knew this picture and post would ring a bell with you. Well as leaders we do have fears that sometimes prevent us from accomplishing what we need to do. I thought the bear metaphor would be a perfect way to introduce how we deal with roadblocks. I am glad I got you thinking about what you might do if you weren’t afraid. And what might that be? Thanks so much for sharing my post! You are one amazing friend!

  13. I love your quote, Johann- “Run to your fear and your fear will runaway from you”! I agree that when we look fear straight on and welcome that uncomfortable feeling, we are more able to own it and pulverize it. It is funny how fear can take over our life choices and actions. As you say, we must stand strong. I so appreciate your additions and your friendship! Terri

  14. I agree Jon, that in our ever changing work world, we need to think and react quickly to our fears and roadblocks. The challenge is to figure out ways to recognize and define the fear- what is really at the heart of me feeling this way? Once we can describe it and commit to overcoming it, then we can march forward to resolving the obstacle. Thanks so much for your insights and support. Terri

  15. Very nicely laid out process, Terri! I especially like the “own it” step. Our human instincts are to advert fear, which just makes it more of a monster. Also like your question to get someone to visualize fear in a very specific way, instead of talking in abstract. Asking the question of what we would do if we weren’t afraid is also a great exercise to see beyond the illusive power of fear that our ego conjures up to keep us safe. Thank you again for this piece, Terri!

  16. Thanks Alice for your great additions! I too agree that fear can get the better of us so a natural way to deal with it is to runaway. That’s why some concrete steps like describing the fear and allowing it to exist, can help overcome roadblocks. Interesting enough, no one has answered the question what they would do if they weren’t afraid. Do you think people are afraid to address the question? I so appreciate you taking the time to share your wonderful comments!

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