Effective leadership always is to be able to make decisions, inspire and provide direction. As leaders, they have to remain accountable for all of their decisions and actions. However, we as human beings in general are always susceptible to many fears and insecurities. And the same can be said about leaders whose success is always tied to the success of people whom they are leading.
From handling organisational complexities to ensuring growth, from managing workplace issues to adapting to change, leading can seem to be a quite challenging task.
Fear of responsibility can often sabotage your leadership potential. Any fear, even a rational one, might get in the way of your success as a leader. And not confronting your fears could contribute to setting yourself up for failure in the long-term.
“Fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thinking that there is something to be avoided manifests something to avoid.”— Vironika
Why confronting your fears is important as a leader
As a leader, when you are reluctant to make tough choices and avoid risk, you fail to provide opportunities for their teams to grow and optimise themselves for long-term effects. It even might translate into lack of trust and credibility.
Not working on your own fears can obscure your judgment, leading to less logical decisions that undermine your authority and influence. It also leads to poor self and emotional regulation.
One limiting belief of many people is that their skills as a leader are an unchangeable character trait they have to live with. But in fact, we as human beings are always growing and changing. And believing that your leadership traits are fixed limits your chances to really grow and improve.
In order to make the required changes, it is indeed important to examine what is holding you back from positively impacting people around you. Here are some common fears that might be standing in your way of reaching your leadership potential.
Fear of responsibility
As a leader, you are responsible for making decisions, choosing right people to delegate, providing required resources, and inspire your team to work through challenges. Being faced with so many decisions to make, one can feel vulnerable and come under scepticism and worry. Because whenever you make a choice to lead in a particular direction, you are making yourself completely responsible for the potential outcomes of those actions.
The fear of getting blamed can be a major obstacle to lead effectively. When you do not accept vulnerability, you ignore responsibility to your own actions, blame others for not delivering on your goals and try to cover up for your mistakes. Being vulnerable is a sign of leadership. Accepting when you make a mistake or a wrong decision will in fact establishes trust and credibility.
Accountability breeds response-ability. — Stephen CoveyTweet
Face your fear by taking responsibility
- To do this, you have to first realise that you as a leader is the cause of, and the solution to the things that matter. Since the outcome is always the result of your actions, the key is to show accountability for your actions and decisions rather than shifting blame on others. Being honest and consistent in your decisions and actions can help you reach your full potential.
- Be proactive in the way you respond to problem situations and challenges. Take responsibility for the problems and making an effort to provide support and adequate resources in finding potential solutions. Stay focused on the actions you take rather than the outcomes.
Fear of Criticism
The best leaders must take decisions, take action, communicate their vision and be more. So they are not only praised for their effort, but also are criticised for their approach, or for what they do and say. Since every one has their own leadership style, they are going to prioritise certain aspects over others. This makes them prone to criticism.
When leaders are afraid of criticism, they procrastinate on important decisions with the hope that issues will resolve themselves. They ignore conflicts and avoid difficult conversations as it gives them an uncomfortable feeling. Ignoring issues and not taking decisions at the right time makes the misaligned with their expectations.
Being closed to criticism is like playing it safe, not taking risks and avoiding innovation. If you are afraid of being criticised for everything you do, it could lead you to focus on what other people think. This results in seeking others’ approval rather than picking up the style that best suits your nature.
There is one way to avoid criticism; do nothing, say nothing and be nothing. — AristotleTweet
Overcome your fear by taking criticism constructively
- As a leader, criticism is something you should expect. One way to face the fear head on is by keeping yourself open to receiving feedback, seeking inputs and encourage opinions that are different from your viewpoint.
- Instead of getting defensive, anticipate criticism and acknowledge what people you trust have to honestly say about you. This not only improves your relationship with those whom you lead, but also will help you make well-informed decisions.
- Self-awareness is another key factor to know about the strengths and weaknesses of your leadership style. Keeping your ego in check, and making your team feel comfortable to share their concerns, translates into trust which is an important aspect of effective leadership.
“Failure is an attitude, not an outcome. — Harvey MackeyTweet
The first, and most innate fear leaders might experience when it comes to exploring new ideas, and implementing changes is the fear of failure. If you feel fearful of not being good enough to succeed, or not good at communicating your vision in a compelling way, this can hinder you to lead to your effectiveness.
Fear of failure results in making assumptions about future outcomes where you avoid change, trying new approaches, and implementing new ideas. Keeping the status quo might feel like a safest way. The problem with this perspective is your ideas might lack relevance and can prove to be outdated. And in a way, giving into your fear of failure can make status quo more riskier than change.
Overcome this fear by growing your learning habit
- We learn more from our failures than from our success in life. When you fail, focus on key things that went wrong, and how you can avoid them in future. Because while leading, failure can come in many forms—making wrong decisions, delegating to wrong people, over-promising and underdelivering, not properly communicating.
- When you make mistakes, own them and if you genuinely fear certain outcomes, explore the risks involved and how they can be managed. Lessons can only be learned only by failing, so, the more you explore outside of your comfort zone, the more you become better at taking risks.
Leaders who fear rejection seldom challenge other’s thinking and confront poor performance. When you focus more on like-ability than being right, you tend to rely more on consensus rather than focusing on your purpose. You become risk-averse and conflict-avoidant.
As a leader, when you are uncertain about whether or not you would be accepted or rejected, you tend to avoid certain situations by all means because not trying means not facing rejection. You rationalise by telling yourself how a particular opportunity is not worth even a try. Besides having a negative impact on your ability to succeed, it makes you feel like a failure or being judged and outcast, whether it’s about your ideas, skills, or choices.
Innate fear of not being accepted erodes your confidence, increases insecurity and overwhelm. And as a leader, if you are highly sensitive to rejection, you are most likely to misinterpret, distort, and overreact to feedback or others’ opinions. Overly being sensitive to rejection might further lead to interpersonal problems and sometimes can leave you feeling lonely and isolated.
Face your fear by developing a growth mindset
Since our basic beliefs and emotions contribute to whether or not we can cope with rejection, overcoming this fear requires you to shift your perspective.
- Develop your ability to see things as changeable, and adapt growth mindset. This helps you adjust your approach when facing future situations. And allows you to see the outcomes as something that can be altered or improved.
- When you catch yourself fretting over what if questions, remind yourself about your capability of handling both the outcomes, either positive or negative.
- Accept your difficult emotions. When you feel angry and frustrated about not being accepted, the emotions you feel are extremely valid. Allow yourself to process those emotions and surround yourself with people who empathise and appreciate your experiences without passing judgment.
Fear of other people’s opinion is a negative motivator and can have a damaging long-term effect. Many people who are in leadership positions are worried about social disapproval. It can be hard to listen to what other people think, especially, if these opinions are unfavourable and reflect badly on you.
When you give into this fear, you will start playing it safe because you are afraid of being ridiculed or rejected. As a result, you start paying less attention to your ideas and surrender your viewpoint when challenged. The desire to fit in and the fear of being disliked undermines your ability to achieve what you truly want to.
Fear of opinion not only lowers your potential as a leader, it also lowers your self- confidence in making hard decisions. This further leads to lack of assertiveness, increases approval seeking where you try too hard to please others. Hearing to more views and understanding different viewpoints is important to make well-informed decisions, but not if that comes at the cost of undermining your own right opinions or values.
Develop a stronger sense of self to confront this fear
- Going with easy and popular opinions as opposed to taking a hard stand can sometimes work for short-term, but won’t work for long-term. As a leader, you are often tasked with tough decisions and they won’t always be popular. Ensure that you are listening to differing opinions and learning, but only to those people’s who are aligned and hold your views and values in high regard.
- Develop a stronger and much deeper sense of who you are and the person you are working to become. Come up with your personal philosophy of your basic values and beliefs that act like a compass, guiding your actions, thoughts and decisions. Living in accordance with your own personal philosophy will allow you to work with more purpose and meaning.
As a leader, one is faced with difficult decisions all the time. But giving into the fear that the next decision you make will be the wrong one, can often lead to decision avoidance. Not all hard decisions are big and important, sometimes, even small decisions can be hard to make when there is no better option or when the options available are very different in kind of value. And since leadership role puts you on the spot, you might frequently question your ability to make tough choices.
Certain leaders avoid hard decisions because they worry about the high risk consequences of their decisions. Lack of self-awareness, emotional clarity and lack of sound judgment at times can lead to ambiguity or self-doubt.
Overcome this fear with value alignment
- Aligning with your core values help you remain congruent, consistent in your decision making. Ask yourself, Which of my values are aligned with the goals I would like to achieve the most ? Take time to assess the decision in light of your priority value framework to gain clarity.
- When strong emotions are interfering with your ability to make difficult decisions, taking a pause to understand the root cause of the emotion. Ask yourself, What is the dominant emotion at this moment and how is it interfering with my ability to make tough choice?
- Fear of uncertain consequences can make you feel comfortable because it keeps you in a pattern of inaction or indecision. Having a go-to process will give you some of the certainty you need to take action. It is important to understand that there can never be full certainty on any outcome and the only thing you can do is to take action and to deal with consequences. Considering the upside and downside of each choice instead of making no decision at all.
How can confronting some of your fears can improve your leadership effectiveness?
In what ways do you benefit by taking responsibility for your actions and decisions?
How often do you make yourself available and ask for honest feedback from other people that you trust?
Do you prefer safe choices over creative solutions and innovative ideas?
What decisions, outside of your norm, you take to expand your comfort zone and make it a new experience?
Do you often conform to popular opinion as opposed to that of taking a hard stand against?
What situations did you avoid because you were afraid of rejection?
Our fears are innate, some conditioned by our experiences for our safety and survival. And while each one of us face these fears in all aspects of our life, often the most challenging moments happen to be when people are in different positions of power and responsibility.
Although many lead with confidence and conviction, they are always prone to constant stream of self-doubt and apprehension because of these fears. Merely committing to confront some of the fears you have, you will start to have more positive impact on those you lead. Recognising them and acknowledging them for what they are allows you to reach your full leadership potential.
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