How to Take Charge of Your Leadership Fears
Have You Been There?
You're at your desk, head pounding, anxiety gnawing deep in your gut.
The email you just received stares back at you from the screen and you:
- Worry that the problem in front of you is too big.
- Are fearful that you've screwed up and there's no saving it.
- Are anxious that you're not up to the challenge.
- Wonder if you'll never get the sales, revenue, or results you need.
- Think that this time, "they" will finally realize you're a fraud.
In short, you're scared.
We may use a bunch of other words to describe it, but our body knows these emotions as fear.
Every leader that's ever lived is familiar with these fears.
The leaders who succeed (and especially those who are part of a character-based leadership revolution) have found a way to take charge of these fears.
And you can too.
You Say You Want a Revolution?
I've often wondered why we continue to need a leadership revolution.
I mean, seriously…for many years now, study after study have given us the same feedback about what teams need from their leaders and what makes a leader effective.
And yet...employee disengagement continues to hover at 60-70%, we regularly experience poor leadership, and can all cite friends with horror stories.
You most likely know someone who complained about poor leadership as a team member, then went on to commit some of the same mistakes as a leader. Maybe you are that person.
So my question is simply this: if we know character-based leadership works (and I believe we have plenty of evidence that it does), why don't we see more of it?
I believe there are several answers, but it comes down to two things: skills and fear.
If you don't have the skills, you can't use them. To get those skills, keep reading the Lead Change Group and our individual blogs. We live in an age where more leadership teaching is readily available than at any time in history!
However, even when we have those skills, the character-based leadership revolution faces a significant challenge:
You know what happens when you're insecure, fearful, and scared: you shut down and get defensive, or you get angry and lash out, or you get depressed and give up, or you… Well, you get the idea.
When fear dominates your emotions, you do not serve your team well, and you certainly don't lead from a place of character.
If you're to succeed you have to manage those fears.
How to Take Charge of Your Leadership Fears
a) Get perspective.
When fears starts shutting you down, it becomes your entire world. You see everything through its dark veil. When that happens, there are two powerful ways to ease its grip.
Both help you regain perspective.
It does no good to tell yourself "don't worry." It can help, however, to introduce some other emotions - and gratitude is a powerful one. Here is a short list of leadership gifts you can focus on:
- Anything anyone does for you is a gift. Your team has chosen to serve with you, to contribute their time, their talent, and their work. They don't have to. They choose to.
- You impact the world every day. The way you treat people, the products and services you provide, the work you do - all of it makes a difference.
- You have a team. You are not alone.
- What you do will outlive you. The products or services you provide will eventually disappear, but what you do for people (both your team and customers) will continue long into the future.
- The problem in front of you is an opportunity - to learn, to grow, to serve. You have this opportunity when many others do not.
When fear shuts down your perspective, focusing on one or two of these leadership gifts is often enough to regain your balance.
2) Use Competing Problems
This is a powerful technique you can use to counter one of fear's most powerful effects:
When fear takes over, you forget you have choices, you feel trapped, and you become a victim. (And that's no way to lead!)
To counteract victim-itis, remember your choices.
If you're leading, you will have problems. You will always have problems. (That's not a choice.)
However, you often DO get to choose which set of problems you want to have. Effective leaders don't spend time trying to avoid problems. Rather, they put their energy into working on the right set of problems - the ones that, once solved, get them closer to their goals.
When you're scared, remember that you have choices. Often, the problem that had you scared in the first place is one you would willingly choose once you compare it to others.
For bonus points: picture yourself having resolved the problem you've chosen. Think about how you got there and how it feels.
b) What Can I Do?
Once you've regained your perspective, it's time to move to responsibility. Nothing drives fear away faster than the realization that you have power in the universe and can actually do something.
It's a simple question: what can you do to solve the problem or accomplish the results you're looking for?
If the answer is, "I don't know" then maybe the real answer is to begin by getting some input from others, doing some research, etc.
In any event, when you take responsibility for yourself and what you can do, you'll discover fear losing its grip.
c) Do Something Impossibly Small
You've regained perspective, you've reclaimed your power, now it's time to act.
But I encourage you to start with something impossibly small. Something at which you can't fail. Something that takes 30 - 60 seconds.
- Email your team to schedule a meeting.
- Create a file for the topic, take notes on the email, and put it in the file.
- Call a trusted colleague to get their perspective.
- Open a document or get a piece of paper and write down your next steps.
- Jot down similar issues you've encountered and what you did then.
When you take action, you build momentum. Your body begins to assume that it will continue doing what it's doing.
Almost without realizing it, that one small step turned into 3 or 4 more and before you know it, you're back at work.
Fear, while maybe not vanquished, is just along for the ride.
Despite your best intentions, insecurity and fear can quickly drive you back to the use of power and control rather than character and influence. When you take charge of your leadership fears, you're on your way to influencing everyone around you.
As a leader, what are you grateful for?
How do you maintain your perspective when fear threatens to shut you down?
I'd love to hear your answers in the comments below!
David M. Dye