6 Fears Of Leadership

Every new manager needs to deal with tons of situations he or she never dealt before. There are battle you never fought before, battles you even cannot imagine. It requires courage, strength, vision, and understanding your opponent. And unfortunately the opponent’s army lives in your head.

Couple of years ago I participate on a coaching training organized by Erickson Coaching International. Part of the sixteen days long course was to learn how to deal with our internal fears and how to coach others to overcome them. Dr. Marilyn Atkinson calls these fears “gremlins”. She is describing four of these gremlins or fears that may inhibit your growth, success or happiness in life. They are essentially habits that can stop you from achieving your life or business goals. To make some of the ideas behind them more prominent I added two additional fears you will need to deal with when entering the world of management. So what are the fears that prevent you from becoming a stellar leader?

  1. Fear of dreaming

If you want to change something, or reach a goal you need to have a vision. You need to be able to visualize what you want to achieve, how you want your life to look like, how you want to be seen by your team and why is this important for you. The inability to dream, or rather to visualize yourself actually achieving the goals is one of the root causes why you don’t even begin. It might be you don’t believe you have the skills, or you see other people around who are in your eyes better, smarter, more beautiful. As a consequence you are unable to create a realistic visual experience on how your life could look like if you pursued some challenging goal. You are so afraid to dream that you procrastinate and you don’t even want to consider what might be possible and what you can be capable of.

How to fight this fear? Get a mentor or a professional coach to help you realize what your strengths, and your potential are. Remember that when you were five years old many things you do today (driving a car, buying a house, reading a book) looked pretty unachievable and still, here you are.

  1. Fear of failure

Even when you are able to set vision for yourself you can still get derailed by another fear that will pop up regularly as you are faced with new and new challenges. Fear of failure is there to shield you from doing something stupid that can hurt you. Unfortunately, it is rather conservative fellow and often prevents you from experiencing anything new. For people who get their first management job this is often very real fear. Suddenly, you are faced with whole new world of requirements and you feel like not having the necessary skills. As you get more and more experienced and as you get more comfortable with failure this fear slowly goes away.

How to fight this fear? Remember your first attempts to ride a bike? Or first swimming lessons? I’m pretty sure you had your share of failures and they were very important learning opportunities. It is ok to fail. And to help you get this mindset try to break down any insurmountable task into a bunch of simple steps that don’t look so threatening. Failing at the next small step is not that scary as failing at the huge vision.

  1. Fear of conflict

We are not alone. There are people all around us and especially in a leadership roles you need to expect frequent interactions with others. People who find themselves in a leadership role need to be able to fight. Ability to distinguish what are the battles worth fighting and how it should be done is one of the markers of really great managers, communicators, and leaders. Most of them have one thing in common. They have a very strong internal compass based on a clear set of values and rules. If you understand why something is important to you, if you are able to judge the impact on your actions and have communication skills to limit any collateral damage you get also more comfortable with having difficult discussions, having strong opinions and you get the ability to show your team a vision they can follow.

How to fight this fear? Focus on improving your communication skills and how to have difficult conversations to build your confidence. Look inside you to find the values that guide your life and make sure that your actions align with those values.

  1. Fear of system failure

We live and work in a complex system. Things somehow work, they are all connected and any time we do something we influence the system, the environment, and the people around us. Getting into a leadership position means that you are required to constantly influence the system in pretty significant ways. You have bigger impact on lives of others than when you were individual contributor, you have formal (or informal) power and you need to be ready to use it. The common fear here is that your decision will negatively impact someone’s life, you may lose friends, or you may get your boss angry. It then leads to indecisiveness, procrastination or apathy. You are getting to the wait and see mode instead of proactively directing your life and steering the system in a new direction.

How to fight this fear? Again, use your values as a compass for knowing what is right. Understand what role you are just playing in that given moment (boss, father, friend) and behave in a way that is aligned with that role. Stop worrying about things you cannot change. You cannot change how others feel, and you cannot change the whole world at once.

  1. Fear of insignificance

This is a fear that many managers experience. All human beings have the need to be respected. You want your boss to treat you like a human being and at the same time you want to feel people reporting to you are taking you seriously. For a new manager this fear may significantly impact his or her performance. It can also manifest itself when you are being promoted to more senior leadership roles and asked to work as a peer with people who are vastly more experience or if you are coming as a new manager to already built team. This fear can lead to being afraid to make tough decisions (or any decisions at all), being afraid to speak up on topics you are not so strong about (you could be ridiculed), being afraid to appear weak (so you start shouting on people and play a big boss). In short, this fear is rooted in you not being confident enough to do a job you are asked to do.

How to fight this fear? You’ve got to the position you are in for a reason. Others probably believe you will do fine. Getting a good understanding from the people who you interact with what they expect from the role, setting up clear communication and feedback channels, and making it very clear what values you stand for is a good start. It helps to have a trusted mentor who can guide you until you get the necessary amount of confidence.

  1. Fear of uncertainty

The world is changing. Any growth requires a change. And with any change there is uncertainty. For many managers and leaders the fear of uncertainty can keep them stuck in their ways even when those ways no longer work. You see that the team is not performing as well as it could, but you don’t know whether the improvement idea you have would work. So you don’t even try. There is a new big initiative coming, but because you are uncertain whether it will succeed, you resist. And then you are either left out or you help the initiative to fail. You need to make a decision, but you are so afraid of the uncertain future that you are trying to collect endless amount of data thus not making the decision too late, or not at all. There are so many similar situations that this fear can drastically impact your ability to grow your career but also to grow as a person and have a happy life.

How to fight this fear? Keep in mind that no one can predict the future. Also remember that the world around you is changing whether you want it or not and it is always better to lead the change as you can at least impact the direction. If you don’t make decisions, the life will make them for you. The need for clarity and understanding the future is very strong but can be broken by having a positive mindset that allows you to enjoy small wins, and keep the optimistic attitude and solid amount of curiosity. Once again, things that don’t change can’t grow.

And now what? If you have no clue how to find your internal fears then you should consider working with a life coach who can guide you on the journey through your inner self. The ability to understand your values, getting your vision, and recognize these fears so you can align them with your goals or even remove them altogether is a good first step for happy life and successful leadership career.


What are your fears as a leader? What were the internal fears and worries you had to overcome to become good at what you do?

Photo: Shutterstock, Inc.

Categories: Coaching, Leadership

Tags: , ,

4 replies


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