How to Lead in a World of Fear

European Union

European Union

For businesses and non-profit groups, communicating in this kind of environment and reaching an audience can be tricky

CALGARY, AB – BUSINESS – Spend a few minutes on the homepage of any media outlet and you’ll get a taste of how scary the world can be. Greece is cratering. Russia is battling Ukraine (again). ISIS is encouraging attacks on suburban shopping malls. Disneyland is a measles petri dish. Conditions are ripe for another economic crash. And a little blue or gold dress is the biggest viral news this week.

On top of all the craziness, leaders in government, business, and nonprofit leaders consistently let us down. They make big promises, but usually fall far short on delivery. We have more information than ever, but so much of it conflicts. What can we believe? Whom can we possibly trust? And why should we even bother?

For businesses and non-profit groups, communicating in this kind of environment and reaching an audience can be tricky. Fearful people are almost hard-wired toward scepticism, indifference, and disengagement. That means they’re more likely to hold back from becoming customers, or being loyal employees. It means they’re wondering whether you’re really worth donating to, or volunteering with, or voting for. In short, they’re immobilized.

How can you get people to become engaged, active, and loyal believers of you and your organization?

  • Be real. People are more likely to believe in people they can relate to. The most credible people are authentic. They haven’t got it all figured out and are confident enough to admit it. They have an innate ability to humbly connect through emotion, humor, and are willing to ask for and listen to another point of view. Forget the jargon and talk in language people understand – and that makes them feel motivated.
  • Understand your audience. Find out what motivates them, scares them, and makes them pay attention. The more you get to know them, the more you can communicate in ways that matter to them.
  • Offer an inspiring brand. Good brands don’t focus on their product or service, but on something bigger than themselves. By connecting to common human values (like love, creativity, fun, or freedom), organizations build a loyal following and achieve massive growth. Apple has dominated technology by helping people realize their creative genius, not by selling nifty devices. Their marketing focuses on celebrating and inspiring their customers who “think different” and have more fun in the process.
  • Follow through. People follow those who do more than talk, but who also roll up their sleeves and get things done. Credible leaders build momentum. They innovate in meaningful ways. They don’t talk in vague generalities. They move the bar, and show concrete, tangible impacts. And, they connect those outcomes back to their customers’ higher values.
  • Tell a good story. Nothing beats the power of a great narrative, especially when your customer is the star of the show. Stories bring your inspirational brand to life and give your customers the power to see what their lives could be like through a relationship with you.

People trust leaders who are reliable, real, and inspiring. Leaders who make them believe in themselves. Leaders who help them see that they have what it takes. Powerful leadership is the antidote to a frightening world. Suddenly, fear is replaced by confidence, scepticism with inspiration, and indifference with belief and action. This is how people achieve, creativity flourishes, and justice overcomes. Scary thing is, there is no other option.

Joni Avram


Joni Avram ( helps donors, businesses, and non-profit enterprises gain credibility, build influence, and grow support through effective marketing and engagement strategies. Her expertise has helped generate millions for philanthropic initiatives, focused on effective collaboration, blended value, and social outcomes. You can follow Joni on Twitter @joniavram

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