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Is Fear blocking your leadership?

Leadership is challenging. Pressure increases anxiety and fear that can feel overwhelming, obscure judgement and reduce empathy, therefore affecting your relationships, trust and the likelihood of people wanting to follow you.


Yet as leaders we often feel the need to assume a position of expertise, certainty and confidence. We can interpret pressure as a reason to focus on activities that make little different to our bigger objectives, to please others, to meet deadlines at all costs, to turn a blind eye to the emotional needs of our team and to avoid the softer aspects of leadership. We believe these responses will reduce the fear and help us gain control.


But the reality is that fear is a useful communication that increases our self-awareness about what is going on, giving us insight about what needs to happen to make progress. Getting real about the fact everyone has fears is an important part of being authentic and gaining trust, two important aspects of reducing anxiety.


Or perhaps, and more likely, you’re focusing on what you feel under pressure to do, trying to meet the needs of others, achieving a deadline, worrying about team members fulfilling their roles, feeling overwhelmed about delivering what is expected of you, and being what you need to be to those around you?


Be honest and identify what are you afraid of:


Fear about being seen as an imposter is a common reality for many people in positions of authority.


Being aware of the internal dialogue and choosing what to do with those thoughts and feelings is a must if you want to take control of how you show up. Acknowledge the fear and reframe it as a reflection of your continuous development to better leadership.


Fear about getting it wrong can paralyse our ability to make decisions or lead us to make decisions that are illogical. Decision making as a leader is difficult. Every choice you make has consequences and some of those will not feel good. Others you will not have anticipated. But you need to be able to make good decisions that provide direction, have your team behind you that you’re happy to be accountable for. We can experience decision fatigue that can interfere with our mental health.


Avoiding decisions is worse than making the wrong one. Communicate your intent, use others as a sounding board, and seek feedback from trusted people around you, to increase your sense of security.


Fear about being judged means that we can end up prioritising what we think we are measured by. Or ticking tasks off the infinite list that we have a greater degree of control over. Or managing problems without the degree of time and empathy that they deserve.


Be clear about what you want your role to be; what is important to you about leadership and what does your team need in order to perform well? When you focus on where you add value (that should be about empowering your team), it is easier to make confident decisions about what you do and don’t do.


Fear about conflict means that some leaders end up trying to please everyone. They fear being criticized. Yet differences of opinion is necessary to challenge and improve practice.


You cannot please everyone so be clear about your values that should align with those of your employees, and use the behaviours that drive these as a ‘team charter’ to which everyone is held accountable, including you. And work on developing psychological safety that empowers people to engage in positive conflict safely.


Fear about failure can stop us having a go at trying new approaches. But since when did being agile, adapting to change, continuous development and improvement have anything to do with sticking with what has always been done? Too often we fall into the trap about doing things that feel safe because they are familiar. But do they actually work? Are our methods most effective? Failure is a necessary part of learning. A lack of confidence can prevent us engaging with our role in the most useful way, for example designing it with our team, putting boundaries in place to protect leadership time, and having the conversations that need to happen.


Show courage by sharing your intentions to try something new with your team, asking for their input, being open about the possibility of dips in performance while changes occur, and inviting feedback, including others’ ideas.


A fear of unpredictable human interactions can prevent us from checking in and supporting colleagues. When we’re over-worked and anxious about what to say, how to say it or what the reaction might be, it can feel safer to avoid the conversation. Good communication is not a natural strength for many people but it is an essential aspect of good leadership.


Checking-in, showing compassion and having the right intent is more important than coming up with the ‘right’ answers. If you’re struggling with specific skills or confidence, ask advice from others who you admire. Or seek professional help.


What are you afraid of?


Fear can appear from anywhere. If you allow it to dictate how you show up, to block the effective leader you could be, you are likely to fail to achieve the results that are possible. Instead, identify what you are anxious about and the actions you can take to reduce that fear. Be a leader of your own emotional state, the path you take and the willingness of your team to follow.


If you’re looking for an opportunity to identify and explore some of the barriers to leading effectively and leading with enjoyment, join us in the tipi with like-minded people. Or if you prefer a more personal approach, drop me a line.