Leadership Fears - Fighting the dragon

Leadership fears – we all have them. In fact, we’ll probably continue to have them throughout our leadership careers. Fear is a natural part of leadership, because we’re putting ourselves out there, forging a path and trying to get others to follow.

Leadership fears stay with us, because many leaders naturally want to progress and improve. As we keep stepping into new roles with greater levels of accountability, new fears will emerge.

Leadership Fears Are Endless – It’s How We Respond That Counts

We’ll never get rid of fear. It’s a natural part of leadership. However, it’s what we do in response to the fear that makes the difference.

I see a leader’s response to fear as lying on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum, there is avoidance. On the other, there is overcompensation.

Leadership Fear Responses

An avoidance reaction means that a leader may choose not to confront a problem. They may choose to take no action, or to avoid the source of fear entirely. They may wait for it to “sort itself out”. Obviously this can result in poor outcomes, if there is a problem that needs solving.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have overcompensation. An overcompensation reaction may mean resorting to micromanagement in order to gain control, or perhaps becoming aggressive or dominating.

In the middle, we have the sweet spot, which lies between overcompensation and avoidance. Here is where the magic happens, because we don’t avoid the source of fear, we respond to it in a measured and appropriate way.

The middle is where we want to be. This means understanding and responding to our leadership fears in a constructive fashion.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #83: Handling Emotions in Leadership.

Common Leadership Fears

There are many sources of leadership fear. However, here are some of the top ones I’ve felt myself and heard from some of my coaching clients. They may be familiar to you!

Below, I’m going to outline these common leadership fears, and then leave you with some ways to challenge them. Over time, hopefully you will be able to weaken their effect.

#1. Fear of Not Being Good Enough

When you are in a challenging leadership role, it’s natural to feel inadequate from time to time. You’ll feel that you’re out of your depth, especially if the role is new to you.

Feeling insecureThis fear is synonymous with “imposter syndrome”, where you feel as if you’re not the right person for the role, and you’re going to be “found out”.

When you have this leadership fear, pressure and stress are your constant companion.

Am I good enough for the job?

Will people find out I’m no good?

Will my reputation be ruined when I fail?

When faced with this fear, some leaders become tentative. Instead of pushing forward confidently, they take half-steps. They take small actions, instead of the more significant action required.

Other leaders overcompensate. They take huge, dramatic action which causes discomfort amongst the people around them.

Tentative action can make a leader appear unconfident, reducing their credibility and perceived effectiveness. This can become a downward spiral, where the perceptions of others damage their confidence even further.

By contrast, dramatic, bold action can intimidate people, with the leader being perceived as “too much”. Others may ostracise them and cause them to feel isolated throughout the workplace.

Learn More:  Got a Case of Leadership Imposter Syndrome? Try This.

How to Challenge This Leadership Fear

You might have these recurring negative thoughts about your capability running through your head. However, whether you are actually incapable or not, these thoughts don’t serve you.

Humans are designed to respond to fear with a “fight or flight” response. However, in leadership land, starting a fight or running away are usually not ideal actions to take.

The first step is to understand the source of the leadership fear.

Are there parts of your role that make you very uncomfortable? Aspects where you feel like you don’t have the skill, experience or ability to perform? If so, then working on these weak points may help you. This may involve training, coaching or finding a trusted mentor to advise you.

However, if there is nothing tangible that you are failing to deliver on, then these fears are actually baseless. One thing that you can try instead is to lean into your strengths, and try to use them more often.

Limiting the exposure of your weak points then maximising your strengths is a good way to do your best work, and to feel more confident while doing so. A good resource to learn more about your strengths is the Strengths Finder tool (if they aren’t obvious to you already).

Some Handy Thoughts to Keep In Mind

Thought bubbleOne good thought to remember is that everyone starts somewhere.

Do you think Oprah Winfrey started as a popular TV host? What about the CEOs of your favourite companies? I’ll bet they started small, faced a lot of fear and kept improving.

Also good to remember is that confidence is not a requirement, it’s a result. In other words, you don’t need confidence to take action – confidence comes from taking the action and getting results.

Everyone feels nervous when taking significant steps. But the people who succeed are those that take the steps despite the fear.

One of the ways I like to think about this is that if we can work to put ourselves into a situation we fear or find challenging, we’ll be forced to respond once we’re in it. This is a similar concept to the quote by Woody Allen, “90% of success is just showing up.”

For example, if you’re nervous about a big meeting, do your preparation and then force yourself to be there ready and on time. You’ll then be forced to respond during the meeting, and you’ll do fine.

#2. Fear of Other People Being Better at Your Job

From time to time, you’ll lead a team member who thinks they can do a better job than you. They may have strong opinions, or roll their eyes when you make a suggestion.

Perhaps they question your actions and decisions, and resist all the changes you try to put in place. They may have the impression that you don’t really do anything … and they could do your job way better.

Over time, the thoughts come thick and fast.

Maybe they would be better at this than I am!

Perhaps I should stand aside and resign so they can do the job…

It can be tiring and stressful when you are assaulted by this type of fear. Especially when your opinionated team member seems like they are always ready to pounce.

How to Challenge This Leadership Fear

The natural reaction for many leaders when faced with this fear is to either avoid tackling the situation, or to try to shut it down completely.

Instead of taking either of these approaches, perhaps try the following:

  • Help them step up: Give your vocal team member more accountability so they step up and need to do more. Either they will struggle with the increase responsibility, or they’ll excel and be consumed with their new responsibilities. Helping your people develop is the job of leadership.
  • Have a conversation: If you feel this fear and pressure, maybe it’s time to tackle it with a direct conversation. This could be as simple as letting them know that you’ve noticed they don’t seem to be happy with the actions you’re taking, or respecting your direction.
  • Take suggestions and use them: Maybe your team member *can* do better. If so, ask for their help and input to make the team work improve. This takes courage, but you may find you turn an enemy into an ally.

Learn More:  How to Lead People Who Don’t Want Your Leadership.

Some Handy Thoughts to Keep In Mind

Thought bubbleWhen this situation happens to you, here are some thoughts that might help you.

Firstly, remember that you were chosen for this role for a reason.

Try to remember why you were the best candidate and keep it front of mind. If somebody else really was better, they’d have the role, wouldn’t they?

Next, remember that people who are “backseat drivers” or highly opinionated often don’t know the whole story. They aren’t familiar with everything you do day to day. Therefore, their feedback should always be taken with a grain of salt.

#3. Fear of Not Providing Enough Value

Sometimes, leadership can feel like a heap of administration and people management, without much real work. Because you’re not involved in delivering much, do you provide any real value?

Stressed from leadership fear

These feelings can be magnified if you manage other managers. After all, these managers are the ones that run their teams, so you don’t really need to get too involved. If you lead a very competent team, this fear can also arise.

My people don’t seem to need much help, so what am I here for?

Should I get more involved with the work of my people, even though they seem to be doing a pretty good job?

The last thing you want is to let this leadership fear push you to become too involved and cramp your team’s style. So what are you to do?

How to Challenge This Leadership Fear

If you have done the work of developing a self-sufficient team who don’t need your help all the time, well done. You’ve done a good job.

Now, it’s time to focus on strategic thinking, rather than getting deep into the detail when your team are self-sufficient and performing well. This means looking for improvements or other ways that your team can contribute to the success of the organisation.

Start by looking for pain points or inefficiencies in your team or workplace. Or, spot gaps where you think your team could provide value. This isn’t about building an empire, it’s about continuous improvement which helps people to feel motivated, and prevents them from getting stuck in a rut.

Another thing to remember is that the work of leadership is not all about doing the actual work. It’s about supporting your team, thinking strategically, coordinating activity, monitoring progress and removing roadblocks.

It can be helpful to look harder at the value you do provide which may be less tangible, than focusing on the leadership fears of inadequacy or not doing enough. For a reminder on why your leadership role is important, check out the related posts below.

Learn More:  Why is Leadership Important? Here’s a Reminder.

Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #99: Balancing the 4 Key Leadership Components.

These leadership fears are not pleasant, but they are common. If you need some help overcoming your leadership fears and achieving your leadership goals, I may be able to help you – be sure to contact me for your free coaching call.

What leadership fears have you had to overcome in your role? How did you do it? Let me and all the other Thoughtful Leaders know in the comments below!