Let’s Stop Running From Fear

In the whirlwind of our fast-paced lives, we can prize fearlessness as the hallmark of leadership. I used to wear my fearlessness as a badge of honour, believing it to be my superpower.

True leadership isn’t the absence of fear. Brené Brown’s research has shown us that it’s not fear that gets in the way, it’s armour—the ways we try to shield ourselves from fear. My fearlessness was simply a resistance to feeling those fears.

In our pursuit of productivity and fulfillment, we navigate through a complex web of responsibilities—from professional projects and partnerships to family tasks. In this hustle, it’s all too easy to overlook the emotions simmering beneath the surface. The result leads to unconscious behaviours that slowly diminish our self-worth, things like working excessively long hours, hustling to keep up with others, and aiming for perfectionism to circumvent blame or rejection.

This was a trap I fell into, mistaking emotional detachment for strength.

How do we put the armour down and learn how to feel? One powerful method that helped me was an equine leadership program, a day of interacting (not riding) with horses. These powerful animals are skilled at non-verbal communication and they reflect emotions, body language and sensations back to you. No words, simply movement.

If you’re thinking “woo” right now, I understand. Until my equine experiences, I did too.

My transformative time with a horse named Saela revealed fear I had buried, hindering my path to authentic leadership. Horses won’t follow your instructions if they don’t trust you. When I tried to walk her in the ring, my words didn’t matter and I couldn’t just pull her along to accomplish a task. I had to settle my nerves for her to be able to trust me. We completed a few activities together and as the trust built, her body language signaled that there was still more fear in me that needed to be released.

Working alongside these majestic creatures, I learned how to embody vulnerability and attune to emotions on a much deeper level, something that can’t be taught in any classroom. Horses, in their intuitive wisdom, mirror the complexities of our emotions, challenging us to confront and integrate them into our leadership practice.

Recently I spoke with Rosie Tomkins on my podcast about the instinctual wisdom we all possess and her concept of Natural Intelligence (NQ). She defines it as, “a positive use of your instincts, insights, and perceptions, which allows you to have the confidence to make a decision at speed.” We can nurture our NQ through our movement in and with nature and of course, this includes horses.

Some questions to consider:

  • What activities in nature help you connect more deeply to emotions?
  • What would it look like to use NQ more in your work and leadership?
  • What do you think about vulnerability at work? Where do you feel it in your body?


I’ve learned that to trust this instinctual wisdom, we need to accept fear, move with it and choose vulnerability.

And if you’re interested in an experience with Saela and her herd, my good friend Lisa Burchartz (she/her) is hosting leadership retreats this spring and fall.

Picture of Carolyn Swora

Carolyn Swora

Carolyn is a leadership consultant, team coach, certified Dare To Lead™ facilitator, and two-time bestselling author. Her most recent book, Evolve: The Path to Trauma-Informed Leadership, brings new focus to an often ignored, yet critical leadership component: the nervous system. In her work with organizations, from phama to non-profits, Carolyn focuses on driving change through leadership focused on compassion and humility.

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