Can I be completely honest with you? Is this a safe place? Is it ok for me to share some vulnerable stuff with you?
Yes? Ok, good…
I’m a fearful leader. There I said it. You’re judging me right now, aren’t you? I understand. I would do the same if I were in your shoes. But hear me out…
I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded. I’ve been criticized much more than I’ve been complemented. I’ve been thrown into circumstances that I’ve never been in before many more times than I’ve ever found myself somewhere familiar. And because of those truths, it makes me fearful that those trends will continue and I will ultimately find myself unemployed, alone, and isolated.
Maybe you can relate. I make decisions…worried that it won’t work out. I assign tasks…scared that they won’t follow through. I lead the team into the future…doubting that goals will be accomplished. Sound familiar at all?
Don’t get me wrong, I wish that fear wasn’t a part of my life. I sincerely hope that, one day, I’ll be in a place where I have so much confidence that fear dare not rear its ugly face. But that day is not today.
And the truth is that we, leaders, don’t do a good job at all of sharing these fears. We don’t want to get vulnerable or seem like we don’t have it all together. Although I don’t advocate this, I completely understand. But, I have come to find over the many years of leadership that we all share at least some of these fears.
I want you to hear and be encouraged by this: if you have fear as you lead, you are completely NORMAL. There is nothing wrong with you and it absolutely does not mean that you shouldn’t be in leadership at all (both are thoughts that I’ve had).
Before going any further, let’s take a look at four fears in particular. These are four fears that I believe many leaders have in common. Some of these are more overt fears than others, but if you have any of them, it could be the reason that you aren’t reaching your potential as a leader. So here they are:
Fear of failure. This fear goes beyond the common dislike of failure. No one likes to fail. And, although good things can come from failure, it’s never a good feeling when you do fail. But, the fear that I’m talking about here is the one where you obsess about the possibility of failure. Rather than immediately thinking about what could happen if you succeed, you’re consumed by what will happen if you fail.
Ever been there? You’ve been given a promotion or a new assignment at work and the only thing you find yourself thinking about is what happened to the last guy and how he failed. Or you stay awake at night thinking through “what if” scenarios that all end in you being fired or causing the organization to go bankrupt. The fear of failure makes you stay where it’s familiar a little too long and prevents you from reaching new heights and accomplishing greater things.
Fear of criticism. This one is tough for me. Other people’s words and descriptions about me matter to me. Not to the point where I think I’m a people-pleaser, but they do impact me more than they should. When I am criticized, I can remember every word spoken and every non-verbal action exhibited. I can remember, specifically, criticisms that I received over 20 years ago (I know, I need to let it go). But, because of this, in my leadership, I find that I am paralyzed when faced with the possibility of criticism.
Do you connect with that idea? You’ve just been put on a team with the most critical person on the team – you know, the person who is critical of every idea that isn’t their own. It doesn’t matter what you suggest or do, you will be criticized. But, as leaders, we can’t allow others’ words to keep us from leading our team forward. The fear of criticism forces you into a place where you only recycle old ideas and limit your creative output.
Fear of inadequacy. Maybe my story is unique, but I’m guessing that it’s not. I don’t think I’ve ever been the leader of a group or organization where I felt like I had what it takes to succeed. Now, I’ve never had a position that I didn’t think I could do, but I’m talking about something different here. When faced with something new, I immediately feel this comparison game start to creep in and how others could do it much better than I could.
Do you compare yourself too? It can be someone we work with or a peer in the industry. We look at them and we immediately think that they have it all figured out. And, we don’t. In fact, in an arm wrestling match, they could beat us too. The reality is that the fear of inadequacy is a no-win proposition. There will always be someone doing it better…and there will always be people that APPEAR to be doing it better. The fear of inadequacy diminishes the gifts and skills that you have and hides them away until the point that they die and are no longer useful to you.
Fear of success. This is the most subtle of any of the fears that I’m writing about here. And, you’re probably skipping over this one thinking that there is NO way that you have this fear. But, wait just a minute. I’ve seen this one over and over. I have seen people that are at the point of graduating from college who fail a class just so they don’t have to leave the comfort of what they’ve come to know for the last 2-4 years. And, that’s how this fear manifests itself most often – comfort.
Do you find that you’re too comfortable? When it’s time for change or a new direction, do you resist it in lieu of staying where everything is familiar? If so, this may be a fear for you. Success brings with it new expectations, new problems, and new ambiguity. And, that’s not always appealing to everyone. When you’ve experienced success, you may find that you’re asking whether it was worth it. Your event grew by 50% this year so next year you need to make it grow another 50% which will take more people, energy, budget, etc. Fear of success keeps you where it’s comfortable and prevents you from taking the organization forward.
You know, those fears in my leadership have caused me to make poor decisions, no decisions, and late decisions. When I am fearful, I make horrible decisions – because fear blinds me rather than opening my eyes to all of the possibilities. When I am fearful, I make no decisions – because fear causes me to wait rather than act. And, when I am fearful I make decisions that are far too late to be effective – because fear causes me to hesitate rather than take a step forward.
So, which of these fears do you immediately connect with? We all have them. And, I’ve found that talking about them and saying them out loud will actually help us overcome them more easily. I believe there’s more for you…and I don’t want fear to be the thing that’s holding you back. Head on over to my facebook page and let me know what you think!