I remember my coach telling when I took my first leadership position, that “if you’re not afraid, then you don’t really know what leadership is all about”.
She was right, not only is leadership difficult but at times it can be scary too. One mistake, if it’s big enough, can end your dreams of becoming a great leader.
My coach then told me “it’s okay to be afraid, but you have to harness that energy and overcome those fears if you are to become a great leader”.
Over the course of my leadership careers here are 7 fears I had to overcome to achieve my full potential.
Given that leadership is all about leading teams to success, a fear of failure is something that can even stop people from taking on leadership roles, which pretty much kills your potential before you have even started. I have also seen leaders set low goals because of this fear, rather than be bold, but achieving low goals is never going to make you stand out as a leader, or get you offered those bigger leadership roles.
Fear is infectious too, and if you do aim high but fear failure then that is going to get transmitted to, or be picked up by your teams, which can then become a self-filling prophecy.
As a leader, you need to exhibit confidence as this will build confidence in your teams which will then help improve the probability of success.
My best approach for reducing fear is to develop a plan I believe in.
Unfortunately, accountability is something that comes with the job.
As President Truman said ‘the buck stops here’ and that is true of any leadership position.
This fear is also linked to the fear of failure, and being the one accountable for that failure. I have seen leaders try and dodge the accountability by either blaming others, or trying to delegate accountability down the chain of command.
The problem is you can delegate responsibility but you can’t delegate accountability, because the buck always stops with you. It’s your team, it’s you who assigned the tasks, it’s you who gives the direction and you who gives the necessary support, when needed.
Just like in sports the team is responsible, but the coach is accountable even if the coach didn’t play a second of the game.
When you accept accountability great things can happen.
Firstly, it empowers you to find a solution, because if you push away accountability you are putting the onus on someone else to find a solution.
Secondly, it sets a great example for your team and helps create a culture of accountability. And accountability increases ownership and commitment which is critical to achieving success.
Man, if I had a dollar for every time I had experienced imposter syndrome I could possibly retire.
Every time I got a new leadership position or a new role within a new company I would question myself, asking can I do this job, have they made a mistake hiring me or giving this role to me?
Every time this happened I would freeze, or I would stay quiet in leadership meetings, worried that I would get found out and would then get sent back to wherever I came from.
But this was stopping me from contributing, from showing why I was meant to be in that room, at that meeting, and sat in that chair. I still get it now, you overcome it at your current level, but then when you get a move to the next it can still raise its ugly little head.
One of the things that really helped me, was that at one company when I was promoted to a director position, I had to stand in for my boss at the Senior Exec meeting and I was just chatting casually to my bosses boss and I mentioned this to him. I said that I felt a bit of an imposter as my boss should be here. Surprisingly he looked at me and said with a smile “we all get that, I still have it now and I am chairing this meeting”.
So now when I start to feel a bit of an imposter, I just remember I am probably not the only one in the room that thinks I’m an imposter.
When you can overcome this feeling it will allow you to contribute fully and maximize your impact and results.
If there is one the world will never run out of, then its critics.
There seems to be a never-ending supply of them.
And to be honest, there is always going to be someone who will criticize you no matter what you do, you cannot please all the people all the time, and some of those people just love to speak out.
Leaders often have to do things differently, you cannot change the status quo by just doing the same things, and there will always be people who will disagree with your approach and the things that you do.
You cannot let this fear of criticism stop you from doing what you believe needs to be done.
Because, if you do, and you don’t get the results you were hoping for then you will be criticized by those very same people any.way, as criticism is often based in jealousy.
You need to learn and understand the difference between constructive criticism where people are genuinely supportive but are challenging the merits of the approach, which may be valid, and those who are just criticizing from jealousy or because of their own fear of change.
I once worked for a boss who, when I asked him why not just make a decision he said to me “be careful, decisions are dangerous things, and if you get it wrong it can kill your career”.
Now whilst that’s true, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make a decision, you just need to try and make the best decision.
Notice that I didn’t say the right decision, but said the best decision.
Why is that?
That’s because sometimes we don’t know how things will play out, and we have to make the decision which we believe is going to give us the best chance of the right outcome.
You don’t always have all the facts you need, sometimes you just have to go with 60-70% of the information you’d like and sometimes even less.
The secret here is to know when you have all the available information, sometimes 50% is the most you will get, and then you need to decide, at other times there may be more info available, and if you have the luxury of having the time to wait for it, then do so. If not, then make the best decision you can with the information you have.
People say it’s lonely at the top, and this is usually related to the leader being the one who has the final say on tough decisions. But that doesn’t mean you cannot get the inputs from your teams, gets their thoughts and their advice.
Yes, the final decision comes down to you, but that doesn’t mean you can get as much input as possible.
Also, sometimes we know what the right decision is, but it is just hard to make. I worked at a company where our revenues just dropped by 50% and in order to survive, we needed to let 30% of the team go.
That was one of the hardest things I have ever been involved in in my life.
But, in situations like that, you have to remember that you are saving 70% of the organization, and if you fail to act you could end up having to let 100% of the people go.
In this type of situation, I try and remember why we are doing this, and what the benefits are.
Does it make me feel better? No, but it does help to make the decision.
When we land a leadership position one of our first goals is to try and retain it, not to make any mistakes or not to make things worse than they are.
The challenge here is that leadership is not about maintaining the status quo, leadership is about improving things, delivering results, taking things to the next level and that is always going to involve taking risks.
When I start to fear taking risks I always remember what Mark Twain said “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is!”
This doesn’t mean be reckless, as that would be crazy, but it does mean that you should look to take smart risks, or look for ways to mitigate the risk of failure.
When JFK said he wanted to land the man on the moon, that was a huge risk, but he mitigated it by giving NASA enough time to do it.
Leadership is all about taking the right risks, the smart risk as this is what can inspire teams and motivate them to succeed and even to exceed the limits of what was believed possible.
Sometimes Leadership is about taking a stand. Speaking out about against injustices or things that you don’t think are right, or it could be practices that you think are holding back the company.
Sometimes it could be as simple as saying that our performance is not good enough and we could do better.
Sometimes yours might be the only voice that is saying this, and this can be scary.
Being the first to speak up and say things need to change is not easy.
People don’t like change and there can be criticism and negative feedback for anyone who does speak out or who tries to change the status quo.
At one company I worked, we averaged 10% profit per year for over a decade and everyone was happy. Then a new CEO came in and told us that 10% was ok, but that we should be achieving 14%.
This was not a message that was well-received, and he got a lot of stick for it.
However, three years later we achieved 14% profit and shortly after that, it was close to 16%.
A 60% improvement just because he spoke up and said our performance could be better.
Also, Leadership defines culture and what we do not speak out against we are effectively condoning, and then that can become part of our culture.
Yes, I use the word ours, because if you don’t speak out, then you are accepting it.
This could be your organization’s low performance, but it could also be sexism, racism, or other types of discrimination.
If you never speak out you can never change things and leadership is about driving change.
Whenever I fear speaking out, I always remember that I might be the only one willing to say this, but I am definitely not the only one thinking it. That helps to give me the courage to speak out as this can often be the thoughts of the silent majority or at least a significant minority.
Being a leader is hard, there are lots of challenges and obstacles that you have to overcome, and these seven fears if you can master them and find ways to overcome them, then this will help you on your journey to achieving your full leadership potential.
If you need help or support on your leadership journey, then click the link to reach out and arrange a call to see how I can help you.