Leading When You’re Scared

Leading when scaredLeaders don’t get scared, right? Wrong! Every leader I have ever worked with, and just about every leader I know, has at some point in their career been scared. Maybe scared sounds not quite right to you, and if you look up the definition of scared you’ll see descriptions using words such as frightened, nervous, worries, anxious, and alarmed. As you read those words can you now admit that you have been scared as a leader?

What might be the source of your fear?

  • Not being seen as competent enough to have a seat at the table
  • Losing top talent from your team
  • Having difficult conversations with anyone
  • Impending changes in the organization that cause uncertainty for the team and you
  • Feeling you aren’t good enough as a leader and others will eventually find out
  • Wondering how you can prove value and impact to your boss, the board or shareholders
  • Questioning your ability to take a team of misfits and pull them together as a high functioning, productive team
  • Looming lay-offs at the company and wondering if your own job is at risk
  • Anticipating budget cuts or other resource cuts that will impact your ability to be successful
  • And the list goes on…

Come on…admit it. I bet you can say “yes” to at least one of the bullet points listed above. The question to answer then becomes how do you lead when you are scared, anxious, nervous, or even downright petrified?

Do you think that how you lead during these times depends on what is causing you to feel that way? If you are worried you will be fired or laid off, would that concern cause you to lead differently than if you were going to have a difficult conversation with someone? In my opinion, your response should be no as the leadership skills you need to use during these times are the same.

In over thirty years of working with leaders, I have observed that how leaders show up when they are frightened or worried says more about them than how they show up when everything is working fine.

Let’s be honest, every time you are scared (worried, frightened, nervous…) it’s about you; it’s about how you think others will judge you. You tend to be thinking through your emotions rather than through logic. Here’s what I often tell clients. “The actions we take through emotions such as fear, resignation, worry, frustration, unhappiness (etc.), those emotions typically seen as negative, are different than the actions we take through the emotions of excitement, possibility, happiness, joy, and assuredness (etc.), those emotions often considered more positive; and, thus, the outcomes will be different.”

As a leader, how is it possible to successfully manage through times of challenge and when you are scared?

  1. Acknowledge your emotions and feelings. Referring to the statement I made above, if you don’t recognize and admit your emotions you will take actions that may not serve you, and also determine the outcome you most fear.
  2. Admit it’s all about you. Admit that whatever is causing you uncertainty is all about you. It will help you focus on where the fear is coming from instead of pointing to something outside of you.
  3. Stop and examine the feeling. Is it rational? Do you have evidence that supports your concern? When has this come up in the past? Is there something that has happened that brought this feeling to the surface now?
  4. Communicate to others. Sometimes you need data to determine if your response is an emotional reaction or reality. If the concern is losing top talent from your team, go talk with them, express your concern, and ask their intentions. When you have all the facts you can deal with the situation and define a solution, or you can sit back, relax, and recognize that something triggered this concern and the resulting fear you feel.
  5. If you’re scared, say you’re scared and move on. Once you can acknowledge you are scared, you will no longer give too much credit to the concept of fear. It will change the way you perceive fear and how it affects you.
  6. Always be building trust. One thing that is true is that fear escalates when there is little or not trust between the leader and the stakeholders. Focus on building trust with your team, other leaders, your manager, senior executives…every level of stakeholder.
  7. Quit pretending you know it all. None of us knows it all. Pretending you have all the answers doesn’t help you ever. Not only does everyone know it’s not true, when you make a mistake (and you will) it looks bigger and more problematic than it likely is.
  8. Seek outside help. Find a coach or mentor, either inside or outside the company. None of us can see in ourselves what others see. Having this outside perspective can support you in many ways.

The heard reality is that if you always operate in the safe zone you aren’t likely to achieve much. When you take risks there are consequences. The bigger the risk, the bigger the potential for a huge upside, and there is potential for a downside as well. That comes with the territory of being a leader. You don’t, however, have to let the fear grip you to the point that it immobilizes you or causes you not to make decisions. And remember, as you progress as a leader, developing personally and professionally, you will face new challenges and fears. Don’t assume that once you have stared into the face of fear and conquered it that you won’t have to face it again. That isn’t true. Next time your fear will be something new you haven’t faced in the past.

You can choose. As a leader, when you are scared you can choose to hide, ignore, pretend, or cower. Or you can choose to work through the fear and recognize this is all part of your growth. It’s your choice.

The adage ‘it’s lonely at the top’ is true. Wish you had someone to talk to and ask for advice? Arrange a complimentary thirty-minute call with Linda and find out what a trusted advisor can do for you.

© 2017 Incedo Group, LLC

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