Leadership Fears Can Destroy a CompanyArticle by Maynard Brusman, September 4, 2018
Overcoming Leadership Fears
Companies face myriad threats: a volatile economy, politics, cost overruns, competition and disruptive technology, among others. But there’s a particular internal threat that can dwarf them: fear at the leadership level.
Leadership fears can destroy a company in many ways, including:
- Indecisiveness, leading to missed opportunities
- Emotional deception, which prompts bad decisions
- Suppression of people, forcing high turnover
- Insecurity that manifests as self-centeredness
- Confusion that causes leaders to miss threats at the doorstep
Fearful leaders often cannot deal with difficult issues or conversations, so moderate troubles balloon into true crises. They also resist taking the risks necessary to move their companies forward.
Fears can take many forms: discomfort, incapacity, negative feelings, failure and self-criticism. Each carries numerous side effects, most rooted in a fear of rejection. Fears make a leader ineffective and paralyzed. Plans are often forfeited, as is success.
We often forget that fears are part of the universal human experience. They’re normal, to some degree, even for leaders. The goal is to avoid compensating for them and, instead, identify and overcome them.
The fear-reduction process has four fundamental pillars, as outlined by management consultant Peter Bregmen in Leading with Emotional Courage: How to Have Hard Conversations, Create Accountability, and Inspire Action on Your Most Important Work (Wiley, 2018):
- Fears are greatly influenced by a lack of self-confidence. Leaders who boost their confidence address the most challenging of the four pillars.
- Strengthen your relationships and support structure.
- Practicing intentionality moves leaders farther away from fear through focus and an effective game plan.
- Facing fears directly and exposing them puts them behind you for good.
Boost Your Self-Confidence
Becoming aware of your feelings is the first step to gaining more confidence. Identifying feelings as they occur can help you pinpoint their causes, which are likely not as traumatic as you may fear. Envision yourself confidently navigating the complexities of your job, as you’ve done before, and regain your confidence.
Understanding the motives behind your actions can prove helpful, suggests Citigroup Managing Director Chinwe Esimai in “Great Leadership Starts with Self-Awareness” (Forbes, February 18, 2018). Build self-confidence by examining your motives. Honorable and reasonable motives help ensure successful outcomes.
Look for patterns in people’s responses when you act. If their responses are unfavorable, make corrections and learn from them. Positive staff feedback is a fear suppressor.
Gaining a healthier perspective can help you conquer your fears. Bregman suggests mastering irrelevancy. Step out of the limelight and accept more of a behind-the-scenes role for a greater sense of freedom and confidence boost. You’re actually worth more to everyone when you lead with self-assurance.
Build Strong Relationships
Self-confident leaders have a support network of solid relationships, which helps reduce fears and fosters unity. Trusted and respected friends can offer critiques without causing offense. Building relationships with colleagues and subordinates similarly helps you grow and improve.
Leaders must pave the way in building staff trust; it starts with valuing and engaging people. Show sincere interest in your people with active listening, where you ask questions and do less of the talking. Offer your people understanding and empathy in their times of struggle. Sometimes people just need to be heard, but if you can help with a solution, you can establish even greater trust.
Improving your communication skills helps mitigate fears, especially when you’re faced with serious challenges. Be clear, and ask others for clarity. Make points that are relevant to the other person’s perspective.
Leadership expert Tony Robbins stresses the importance of discovering others’ needs with openness and sincerity. When both parties express their needs with mutual understanding, they honor each other and establish respect. You’re more likely to find workable solutions that meet everyone’s needs when respect is evident.
Leaders who convert critiques into improvements develop the strongest followings and have the fewest fears. They not only welcome feedback, but they request it. They view constructive feedback as free self-development lessons.
Take intentional action on the feedback you receive. Admit you need to improve, take the required steps to do so and share the results. Knowing that every person can improve eases fears; no one has cornered the market on personal and professional development.
Being intentional about preparation builds confidence. Gather facts and data, anticipate different outcomes and weigh the pros and cons. Understand the truth and scope of circumstances, and trust the people who help you determine them.
Intentionally sharpen your focus on the tasks at hand. Tempting opportunities often muddle the picture and invite confusion and doubt. As negative emotions gain a foothold, fears quickly follow and self-confidence plummets.
Intentionality is perhaps best seen in leaders who show resilience when facing setbacks. If you can quickly dispatch disappointments and find something positive in the problem that confronts you, your people will feel more encouraged. This, in turn, encourages you.
Directly Deal with Fears
As with many aspects of leadership, the direct approach is best. Facing fears is no exception. With the help of an executive coach, you can craft a plan to deal with your fears head-on.
Bregman encourages leaders to use fear as an incentive. By exposing your thoughts and perceived weaknesses to your coach, mentor or trusted colleague, a secret’s power is broken. Talking through your fears is therapeutic, and you may see how powerless they really are. Freedom eludes you when you bottle up your fears. Solutions are usually less complicated than you first perceive.
If appropriate, admit past fears to your staff—a move that can further reduce their impact. By being transparent and accountable, you’ll earn people’s admiration and avoid criticism or rejection. Strong leaders needn’t fear showing vulnerability if they deal with their fears directly and effectively.
There’s no reason to allow fear to debilitate you. Organizations run more effectively—and employees have greater regard for their jobs—when leaders have the courage to lead boldly.
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor
Professional Certified Coach (PCC), International Coach Federation
Board Certified Coach (BCC)
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Tags: emotional intelligence, executive coaching, leadership development, mindful leadership