Courage Is Not the Absence of Fear

I don’t like conflict. In fact, sometimes I think I am conflictaphobic. (I just made that word up.) I will do almost anything to avoid it.

Why Courage Is Not the Absence of Fear

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As a result, especially early in my career, I would keep my real opinions to myself. I didn’t want to get in trouble. I thought that if I just complied with the system and kept my mouth shut, I would get ahead.

This was a pretty good strategy for a while. But it didn’t really work once people were counting on me to lead.

Why didn’t I want to speak up? I could feign altruism by saying, “I didn’t want to hurt other people’s feelings.” But that would be a lie. The truth is that I was afraid. It was all about me.

  • I didn’t want to be embarrassed.
  • I didn’t want to lose face.
  • I didn’t want to be wrong.
  • I didn’t want others to think less of me.

So, I kept quiet. Funny thing is I kept finding myself in situations where I had to speak up. If I didn’t, someone would pay an awful price for my personal comfort.

Years ago, soon after I became head of one of our publishing divisions, I had to confront one of my authors. He was pleasant and cooperative when I spoke with him. But he was demanding, uncooperative, and downright nasty to my staff. Finally, one of them came to me in tears and said, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t take it any more.”

I had to make a choice.

I could let it go, hoping he would improve without intervention … or I could speak up. I wrestled with it all night. I tossed and turned. I got sick to my stomach. I played out every scenario.

Finally, things came into focus: I could either be brave and call him on it, or I could be a coward and stop growing as a leader.

Thankfully, I decided to confront him. The next morning I called his cell phone. I was shaking so much, I could barely hold the phone.

I went over the facts. I told him that his behavior was unacceptable. I explained that he would call each of my staff and apologize. He would then send flowers to the person he had offended the most. And if he didn’t? I would stop publication of his book and send him packing.

I was dead serious, and he knew it. To my surprise, he did exactly what I had asked.

I learned an important lesson that day. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to act in spite of my fear.

My people also learned an important lesson. They learned that I was willing to stand up for them, even at the expense of my own comfort. It drew us closer together as a team.

Frankly, I still find it difficult to be brave. I don’t consider myself to be a courageous person. But now having several of these experiences under my belt, it is a little easier. Now I just notice the fear, pull up my big boy pants, and lean into the situation.

If I can do it, you can, too.

Question: Where do you need to find the courage to speak up? What’s holding you back? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Carrie Schmeck

    I recently had to muster courage to apply for a columnist position in our local paper where the editors want local hooks, some controversy and my personal thoughts. I had exactly the four fears you listed.

    Nice to be reminded we all have these fears. The successful ones find their way to courage.

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  • Lily Kreitinger

    Love this post Mike! I struggle with confronting people on their bad behavior thinking that I may offend them.  I’ve learned to be OK with hurting their feelings, which is different than intentionally causing harm.  Being “nice” doesn’t mean letting people walk all over you or your team.  Thanks for sharing this great example of a courageous leader.

  • Shelley Hess

    Thank you Michael, for your perspectives!

    “I had to speak up. If I didn’t, someone would pay an awful price for my personal comfort.”

    The truth of that statement, for example, as well as the true reasons you listed for not speaking up.  I wrestle constantly, more so as it’s a large part of my calling. 

    To remember that someone or several) pays an awful price for my personal comfort when I do not speak up motivates me to work harder at doing so, with grace. 

    Only when I speak up am I truly demonstrating the love of Christ toward that person, caring more about them than I do my own comfort or reputation.

    Thanks again for terrific insight and perspective!

    God Bless!!

  • Eileen Knowles

    I tend to fall into the “let’s just all get along” camp.  I recently left a job where the boss had a horrible attitude and it caused a ripple effect.   Most of the people who had to work directly with her  were miserable human beings.  I wouldn’t have been able to handle it day in and day out.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to interact with her on an ongoing basis.  So, how do you confront the difficult boss with courage?   I once wrote her a letter, showed it to my husband, fumed, and then deleted it.    I bit my tongue, I left on good terms.  And yes, a part of it was fear of making waves which I didn’t think would solve anything.  Yet, a part of me really wanted to say more. 

  • Cynthia Herron

    Conflict…the mere word causes my pulse to quicken.

    I think the longer we avoid conflict, though, the more likely we are to resent the source.
    Diplomacy and Christlike compassion go a long way when confronting difficult situations so I try to strive for those in the midst of something uncomfortable.

    As odd as it seems, I do believe there are folks who languish at the other end of the spectrum–those who want to do battle just for the sake of being obstinate when there’s no validity to their stance (well, except in their own minds…)

  • Laurinda Bellinger

    in 8th grade,  I was in my school’s jazz band.  It was the last concert of the year and I had a solo.  I had rehearsed for months.  A week before the concert our band leader/teacher gave the solo to a 9th grader.  I was so angry.  I didn’t say anything until my dad said to confront my teacher.  The next day I did and I came off a little more “in your face” than I probably should have because I was pushing through the fear.  He only said, ‘it’s my band I can do what I want.’  After the concert, he talked to me and told me he likes to honor 9th graders in the band because they are going off to high school. But he was glad I had confronted him because he honestly didn’t know I cared.   I didn’t think anything off it. Well the next year while I was in 9th grade – EVERY performance I had a spotlight and won all kinds of musician awards.  Lesson Learned – speak up!

    • Michael Hyatt

      What a great story! Thanks for sharing it.

  • Michelle Blanton

    Michael, thanks so much for this post. I have never been one to confront others in any area of my life. I could use this in my ministry opportunities and work. 

  • Shelley Hess

    A moment to share perspective from the receiving end of ‘correction’.  Imagine how many others, for many years, have been prompted but never followed through on speaking up to that author.  He heard exactly what the Lord wanted him to hear that day.  Amen to you, Michael, for being willing! 

    I commend and am very grateful to the ones who are willing to confront issues I create.  If I knew better I wouldn’t be continuing the wrong attitude or actions.  I NEED to hear the correction.  I am very grateful, for that one’s willingness and courage to step forward.  In reality this is done for my good!! 

    I also appreciate your comment that you do not need to agree with everything said, but endeavor to graciously accept and thank that person.  And then extract every bit of truth from that feedback.  Exactly!  And AMEN!

  • Eva popek

    I was always the one people would go to because they knew I couldn’t keep quiet if something was not ok.  They seemed to think I enjoyed confrontation.  What I enjoyed was seeing everyone getting along and being on the same page to get something done. Unfortunately there were times when the WAY I said things (even if I was right), was not always ok. I was a pharmacist 23 years and I would NEVER let the public mistreat any of my techs.  It goes back to the feeling of no matter who a person is they are not less valuable than the one next to them.  I am becoming more courageous in presenting my product (JesusRx daily doses).  I know not everyone loves, let alone likes Jesus and His Word, but it has brought more life to me than any drug I could ever take so I will continue, without fear, educating and speaking of the best “medicine” I know.  (Yes I take all the prescription I dispense now, and feel great about it!!)  God bless, and may we go forward in courage with the gifts we have been given! 

  • Kip Backscheider

    Someone once likened fear to a deep dark pool of unknown water and courage as the swimming across the pool. Courage is what you use/do to get through the fear.

  • Rose Gardener

    I think the most important lesson to be learned in this example is that as a leader you MUST stand up for your employees. If you fail to act even once in that regard, your ability to lead thereafter will be seriously compromised. However, if your staff know you will back them and support them, they will go the extra mile to deal with situations themselves rather than trouble you with ‘small’ issues. (To them the issue probably seems huge, but they dig deep and find the same sort of courage you found- more likely still if you have previously demonstrated how to face such situations through good leadership.) The unseen benefit is that you inadvertently help your staff to grow personally too; a win-win situation. You grow, they grow.

  • Noahfineart

    I spent years of my life internalizing the pain of certain triggers such as wounds from my childhood or my parents divorce. This life of “non confrontation” lifestyle became triggered more often as I grew as a leader.

    By the time I had my company airborne and was building my platform out of highschool I started realizing I had more confrontation. I was going to have to face people, clients and family members. It was so painful. Similar to going to the gym it becomes a discipline and easier. However the triggers or wounds, scars don’t go away. I believe God put these in my wiring to keep me sharp. If I wasn’t “sensitive” to others thoughts of me, business ethics workplace relationships then I would probably be running red lights and burning bridges.

    The fact is, if learned that others think of me way differently than I do. They expect me to draw a line in the sand or stand up because of my leadership. I’m the one losing sleep over caring too much. They aren’t.

    Bravery is stepping out of the comfort zone for me. The bigger the assignments God puts for me to manage and the stakes get higher with bigger demands, responsibility and human dynamics. Also bigger possibility of fallout. I truly believe it comes with the territory of a leader. Don’t ask for the big brand, paycheck or leadership roll without the taking the responsibility for the underbelly of the operations. Most will settle for the position of top leadership without authority to have to confront. Confrontation requires action and if not dealt with, amount to excess baggage.

    The greatest mentors and leaders I’ve read about have a sharp discipline to care about those they serve, voice their convictions and draw a line in the sand and do it all in love. That’s an amazing trait.

    I seek out those leaders that have the ability and sensitivity to confront and deal with others while not burning bridges and destruction. It’s actually a harder route.

    This I know: If I’m uncomfortable and being stretched it going to build character and means I must be leading if I’m having to deal with such situations.

    Michael I’m thankful for forums and conversations such as these because leadership is a lonely road. When you’re the spearhead you are the first to take on the brunt of the action.

    Glad to walk with you all.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Terrific comment, Noah. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  • Bonnie Clark

    Good post! 

    I wonder if many of your readers are conflict adverse because Christians are taught to show grace to others?  It may be helpful to remember to remember what might be gained from having a conversation.

    I read a good book called “Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott and she says: 

    Why would I subject myself to the conversation? 
    Because what’s on the other side of my toughest issues is worth it: relief, success, health, freedom from stress, happiness, a high-performing team, a fulfilling relationship. 

    She goes on to say that we can have the conversations needed to create the results we say we want in our lives, or we can have all of our reasons why we can’t have those conversations.  But we can’t have both. 
    Reasons or results.

  • Scott Ross

    Thank for this post.  My personality is actually the opposite, and I have had to be very purposeful in growing as a person of tact, grace, and awareness of my tone since I am naturally quick to voice my opinion and address issues that I see.  As a leader, this post helps me relate to those I mentor and is something I will refer them to when they struggle with this issue.  That said, I do have things I fear, and the principle of acting in spite of your fear is easily applied to those areas as well.  

  • TB at

    WOW, that’s ballsy and awesome. I’m glad you stood up and said something! Sometimes people speak up too much, they don’t have a healthy dose of fear, but too many peopel seem to fall in the other direction of never saying something when they should.

    The exttra awsome part here is that the dude might have been taught a lesson about thee need to not be a douche. It’s great you finally called him out on it. Good job!

  • Claudio

    Michael, a timely post as I have been reading and reflecting on fear recently. Fear of loss, failure, rejection have influenced my personal life and professional life. Having just retired from a Superintendent of Schools/CEO position, and after a few months being home, I have had more time to understand how fear has influenced my thoughts and actions. At work, I was forced to step out and deal with fear as part of my daily responsibilities. When I did, I found it demanding and exhausting. So much so, that when I got home and faced issues and conflict with my loved ones, I many times did not engage which has influenced our relationships. Being released from the stress and constraints of the work situation has now allowed me to focus on the fear and work through it with my family. Reading, reflecting and journaling has certainly helped. Thanks for posting this at it has clearly helped.

    Regards, Claudio Morelli

  • Heather C Button

    I wonder if my desire to please people comes out in my fear of confrontation. Perhaps it is the fear of losing control if I do confront someone. Either way, when I’m on a construction site, I need to make a decision, and confront issues or they become way too costly to fix. So, still learning.

  • Brian B Baker

    This is a wonderful post. Getting past fear is an accomplishment that many people never try. They’d rather sit in the dark and ignore their surroundings waiting for someone else to pick up the flag of leadership.

    I usually have more difficulty with fear in writing what I should write and not standing up for what I believe in instead of following the heard and doing what everyone else is doing.

    The only thing that was holding me back was the fear of being judged by what I wrote and the fear of judgement of others used to be a strong motivator in my writing. Breaking this fear is one of my goals for the year.

  • Stevemonahan777

    Great insight. Courage is an emotional muscle …..more we flex it stronger it grows.

  • Hefshiba

    Thank you so much for this piece. You hit my nature on the head. I can own up to my cowardice and come out of it. I don’t want to hurt people, that is why I don’t speak up. I will make a start from now. Thanks for being sincere

  • Michael Kocurek

    Michael, thank you so much for your transparency, which has already made me a little more courageous.  I continue to see that the difference between mediocrity and success is the willingness to just step up and act.  You continue to inspire.

  • Thad Puckett

    Wow.  That’s powerful.  I have had those calls before where the phone was shaking in my hand (while I was shaking in my boots).  

    It sounds like courage is acting to do the right thing even in the face of fear.  Great story and a great encourgement.

  • Andrea Warfield

    What’s crazy for me is that I have no problem speaking up if I see a client’s interests are being harmed by another on my team, or for that matter in private life. If someone else is being harmed, hurt, harassed, etc. I’m probably the first one to speak up.

    On the other hand, if I’m the person being hassled, treated badly, or underhandedly, I rarely, if at all speak up and have the courage to place boundaries on a situation.

    I find this somewhat ironic.

  • kimanzi constable

    That’s such a great definition of courage (I shared it on my network). For me personally my mission is to help people. The problem is I’m getting a lot of request that, if I responded, would take up a great deal of time. Taking time away from the things I need to focus on right now, I have a real hard time saying no….. You’ve given me a little more courage :) 

  • Michael Hyatt

    That’s awesome. Shawn is a great guy. I’m so glad he married Madeline. Also, glad he directed you here!

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  • Miranda A. Uyeh

    Sometimes you find yourself in a circumstance where there is a lot of negative talk directed at you. And of course because you don’t want to stir up trouble, you avoid any sticky situations. The trouble is, negative talk tears you down–this was my situation. I had to speak for myself, not because I wanted to talk anyone down, but because I wanted to save myself from anymore negative talk. I guess sometimes the road to peace is a battle.

  • Tim Thompson

    Michael I’m reminded of the quote “Meekness is power under control.”
    Author: Warren Wiersbe
    Just a thought that came to my mind reading your very insightful post. Best wishes: Tim

  • Karla Akins

    Oh this is such a good post. My husband and I have been in ministry for 30 years and it took us over half of those years to learn to respond in spite of our fear and stop being door mats. I personally absolutely hate confrontation. You won my heart explaining how you shook holding the phone. I thought I was the only one who did that! Thanks for being so human and vulnerable in this post. You passed courage on to me today.

  • Alyssa Avant

    I am a conflict avoider as well.  I literally shake when I have to do so.  

  • Festusomotara

    Yes, Michael this is a sure way to conquer terrorism of any form

  • Ngina Otiende

    Thank you for your honesty and openness Michael.  People don’t get inspired by facts and stats, but by real life experiences. Thanks for always serving up huge doses of the latter! God bless

  • Ariel Paz

    Ah, confrontation. So difficult yet so necessary. As with any new skill, practice makes perfect. I find the courage to speak up because I have learned that to confront is better than denial & suppression. Dealing with  issues directly & timely is almost always the best approach. “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” right? Unresolved issues are the fodder of sleepless nights.

     Confrontation has gotten a bad rap. If we focus on the good outcomes as evidenced in your example, perhaps we won’t be so afraid of it. Confrontation preserves and can actually enhance relationships. Helps folks get on the same page and puts a timely end to unproductive behavior. Confrontation is a close relative to setting good boundaries.   

    Thanks for being transparent, Michael. We all struggle with this but the more we are willing to  dialogue & find we are not alone,  the more courage we will all have.

  • TNeal

    Mike, I appreciate your transparency on this subject and the challenge you lay out for the rest of us. One pastoral regret I have is not standing up to a mean-spirited church member who chased off a newly hired staff person. That happened during my first few years as a young pastor, but I still think about my cowardice in that situation.

  • Lynn

    I have noticed when people get power, especially in the entertainment business, they use that power for either themselves or others. The people who use it for others inevitably grow out of the grace. Like you, Michael, you have figured out that in sharing and helping others, God can trust you in places of leadership…and leading leaders. Great job!

  • Aaron

    Michael – this really spoke to me today. It’s been a theme in my life recently and just like your story it’s like the opportunities keep coming. Act and lean in are two key words I took from your post and will begin to implement. I answered the courage call once but there have been may times I didn’t. I’m encouraged by your story and journey. Thank you for sharing.

  • The Quiet One


    I will tell you my story for speaking up. I was in a
    corporate meeting, a very large one. There was a split in the organization as
    to who was going to be taking leadership. Half supported the current direction
    and the other half wanted critical issues addressed before our support could be
    offered. As the other side marched back and forth to the podium expressing
    their admiration, up walked a close co-worker to present a list of names of
    staff who had supposedly agreed to sign it in support. I was shocked that she
    had so brazenly embraced and represented this falsehood.

    Three people of the eleven names had expressed deep grief to
    several of us on the other side that they had been “strong-armed” into signing
    and knew their positions would be in danger of elimination if they hadn’t. I
    was inflamed with the injustice of it.

    I sat with my other co-workers who knew it was a sham and
    when the President asked if there were any other comments for the record, I
    watched in horror as my hand shot heavenward! I looked up, yes, it really was
    MY hand. Now every eye was on me. What did I have to say? I stepped to the
    podium as those around me sat wide-eyed. That’s not what they knew of me. I was
    quiet, amicable, pleasant but not a rebel. I leaned into the microphone and
    started to speak. My voice was shaking. I was thinking to myself, why can’t you
    control your voice, you sound like a scared child! But it was already in
    motion. I spoke of the staff members who had signed under duress without
    indicating anyone. I suggested the board question each member individually to
    learn the truth. They thanked me for my comments and I sat down. Suddenly another
    staff member took the podium in our defense, and then a local citizen.

    Our voices were heard and on the record. I was stunned that
    I had done this. But injustice was being flaunted in my face. The pain of going
    home knowing that truth had not been represented and that I might have made a
    difference but didn’t try….THAT would have been harder to bear. Though my
    outcome was not as triumphant as yours Michael, I enjoy knowing I was a voice
    for justice. I did my part. I am not responsible for the outcome. Others will
    have to answer for what they did with truth.

    Thank you for sharing your “shaky voice” confession! It was
    very gracious of you to invite us into your experience. Once again, that
    someone of your stature has had the same struggles as Jane and John Q. Doe, is
    more encouraging than you know!!!

    • Jim Martin

      Thank you for sharing this story about such a difficult moment in your life.  Stories like yours, where women and men choose to speak up instead of remaining silent are encouraging and motivating.  

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  • Julie Sunne

    Fear about really being wrong is what holds me back. What if I don’t assess the situation properly and really am wrong? Makes me shudder! 
    But you are correct: courage is standing/speaking up in the face of fear.

  • Stephen

    Michael, Thanks for sharing.

    I had a similar situation in my past that didn’t turn out as nice and neat. In order for any confrontation to be successful two characteristics need to be present. Honesty and humility. If they aren’t it’s a mute point.

    My situation involved parties, myself included, who thought there was nothing wrong with the actions or behaviors that were being demonstrated. My confronting the situation just made things worse. Resentment on both sides, an enormous amount of prideful self-interest and denial coupled with some guilt just to name a few of the dynamics. It ended with a parting of ways.

    Confrontation is not always the proper course of action. This is something I’ve come to realize as my relationship with God has grown. I’ve discussed confrontation with others asking these questions. What if David confronted King Darius and the other administrators? What if Job confronted God? What if Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego confronted Nebuchadnezzar? And Lastly, What if Jesus would have confronted Judas? The response was and is always the same. They were fulfilling prophecy. Whether we want to accept it or not we are fulfilling prophecy every day. You, me and everyone else on this planet. 

    The first thing that comes to mind for me if all of these what if’s would have happened is. None of these leaders would have demonstrated their faith in God’s authority, his promises and his supernatural ability. These are all more important than what I would gain from confronting some one about something. 

    Suppose the abuse your staff took at the expense of the author had another purpose? What if it was meant for them to deal directly with the author? What if it was meant to prepare them for another adverse situation they were going to deal with down the road? What if you would have lost some of the staff? What if you would have lost credibility with the staff? “WE” put an emphasis on leaders being able to make timely and informed decisions. Not God. I just read a quote today that said “Sometimes you will have to let people down, and fail to gain their approval when you intend to not let God down and so obtain His approval.” The world is understanding this less and less. Who should we be more concerned with gaining the approval of? One another or God?

    God sees what we don’t. There aren’t to many examples in the bible where God instructed his people to confront a situation. Not that I know of any way. And the examples that are there don’t make sense to us cerebrally. Who would have thought that marching around a city seven times with the band and choir in full procession would have brought down an enemy.

    Before I would go off and encourage people to confront things in their life I would encourage them to turn to God in prayer about the situation. Then encourage patience to wait on God to handle the problem and give them his direction. It’s not always easy or timely. I know too many people who have a, rush in first, then let God help with the clean up attitude. My own personal experiences have taught me against this wisdom.

    Many people have been like what are you waiting for. Why aren’t you doing anything. Why aren’t you saying anything.   We don’t nor will we ever live in a perfect world but I’m hard pressed not to believe that God wants in on the decision making process of our decisions. Before they are put to action. The world drives us and it wants us to make decisions on our timing not God’s. There have been numerous circumstances I’ve witnessed and been a part of that waiting on God’s answer was far greater than acting in my own timing.

    God has supernatural powers that we don’t. We’ve become a society respected by the strength of our own abilities. That’s what we are leading future generations into believing, the strength and power of  their own abilities. And then we ask where God is in all this. Faith isn’t just about salvation and eternal life. Faith is about trusting in God’s supernatural powers as well. The wisdom of Proverbs 16:7 says, When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.

    Things seem to have worked out in your situation and for that I am grateful. Not all situations justify the same response though. I can’t speak for the other parties in my situation but I have grown from it. Mostly and more importantly my relationship with God. Like I said earlier God has supernatural powers that we don’t and they’re activated by prayer and obedience.  Thanks again for sharing and God bless!

  • Nathan Roten

    It is funny that you asked where we need to find the courage to speak up, because that is exactly where my insecurities lie.  I have never been a good speaker, but as I have a published book and have started blogging (with much help from your insight), I have to face that fear.  It is the most fearful times in my life, but the accomplishment you feel after you face it is beyond description.  Great post Michael.  Thanks.

  • John Corcoran

    I am also generally a non-confrontational person.  Which is kind of ironic because I’m a lawyer, and I’ve had to be very confrontational in my profession. So working in a profession which has forced me to speak up has helped me to learn to do it in other capacities, such as in my personal life. 

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  • Lindseytorrison

    I find it difficult to confront a person at work who I can feel tension with, but I’m not sure why or if they even feel it. I wonder: “should I say something to them about the tension I feel, or just let it go and proceed with my work duties?” 

  • Kyna Baker

    Thank you Michael for sending me yet another reminder that I need to step up and step out of my comfort zone.

  • Josh

    As a minister at a smaller rural church, I need to speak up when people in the church become only focused on insiders and forget about the people outside of the walls.  It can be scary sometimes to look at people in the eye and tell them in a loving way that their focus is on maintaining what is and not advancing what can be for the Kingdom of God.

    What holds me back? Things like: confrontation that can be taken the wrong way, people thinking this young kid is trying to mess up our church, etc.

    To sum it up though: Fear as well.

    Next time I’m in a situation that I need courage to speak, I’ll remember your phrase Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to act in spite of my fear.”

    Maybe I’ll play Casting Crown’s “Courageous” on my mp3 player before the confrontation… Just joshing… kinda.

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  • Ben

    I struggled with that for years. I’m not always where i’d like to be but i’ve improved massively with it. It’s funny because all the things you fear might happen when you confront somebody don’t usually end up happening.


  • Eric Bryant

    Thanks for the post and the comments!

    The title of this post reminded me of what Erwin McManus writes in his book Uprising.

    “Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the absence of self.”

    • Jim Martin

      Eric, I like this quote by McManus.  Thanks!