BEING A LEADER IS HARD.
IT's HARDER WHEN YOU LET THESE 3 Giant Fears RUN RIOT.
Sometimes, being a leader or walking into a new leadership role feels scarier than a creepy clown with a sack full of spiders.
It’s great that you've got to where you are. But what comes with the promise of what you want to achieve is the palm-sweating, middle-of-the-night-waking, stomach-wrenching fear that you might screw it all up and show everyone that you’re not as good as they need you to be.
Fear, anxiety, stress and pressure are your bedfellows when you become a leader, and these are 3 of the biggest.
YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH, AFTER ALL
Despite everything you’ve done, you don’t have what it takes. Even though you’ve come a long way and done a lot, it feels like a lot of that was luck or down to a team effort, and there’s this sense, way down deep, that maybe you’re not as good or as capable as you’d like to be.
YOU’LL SCREW IT ALL UP
It’s only a matter of time before you make a wrong call and look dumb in front of everyone. People need you to make all kinds of decisions and judgement calls, and it feels like you could get it wrong any moment and show all-too-clearly that you were just making shit up as you go.
YOU’LL BUCKLE UNDER THE PRESSURE
You won’t be able to deal with the full weight of responsibility that’s yours, and you’ll crumble under the weight of it all. You carry a deep sense of responsibility and duty, and will try your damndest to deliver, but can’t hide the feeling that the pressure and stress might be too much for you.
These fears can be tangibly, stomach-plungingly real, and ignoring them is a sure-fire strategy to give them more power.
So what do you do?
What do you when you have that combination of fear and excitement about what you're able to achieve, and worry that the fears will run roughshod over your ability to deliver?
Here are 3 key strategies for dealing with them...
Remember why you're there
You're in the position you are because you've earned it. You've shown that you’re capable, that you have what it takes, that you’re already good enough. You've shown people (whether it's your bosses, your team or your clients) what you can do and how you go about doing great work.
None of that is fiction and none of it is a figment of anyone’s imagination. Your skills, your experience, your strengths, your talents, and your character make you the very best person to nail this.
Acknowledge that and connect with it. Not in a smug, self-satisfied way, but in a way that reminds you how far you’ve come, how much you’ve achieved and how much you can still achieve and grow into.
You’re as good as you hope you are and better than you sometimes think you are.
List 20 reasons that you’re perfect for the job you need to do.
When you hear yourself think, “What the hell am I doing?”, what’s a way of responding that honours how far you’ve come?
Think about your capability for learning and growth - what does that mean for you when you start your new job?
Escape the Narrative
I’m going to screw this up.
I can’t figure this out. I’m not up to it.
Everyone’s going to see me fail.
It’s only a matter of time before this blows up in my face.
Just a handful of the thoughts that might whiz through your mind when you become a leader. Other thoughts you might have include: I really like peas. Those shoes are nifty. The sunshine feels great on my face. I’m looking forward to Saturday. Mmm, coffee.
My somewhat facetious point is that your brain will manufacture thoughts all day long. That’s its job. It’s a thought-producing machine. The vast majority of these thoughts and narratives no more represent your truth than the thought “I really like peas” makes you a jolly green giant.
Noticing the thoughts about screwing up or failing or looking dumb gives you the opportunity to escape those fictional narratives. You get to spot them as they surface, like bubbles in a pan of simmering water, and say, ““Oh hey, I know you. Thanks for stopping by. You know what, though? I’m pretty good at this, I’m plenty capable and I’m going to be just fine.”
What specific thoughts do you have that sell you short or tell you you're not good enough?
Write down as many of these unhelpful thoughts as you can. Don't judge them, just notice them and get them down.
How do those thoughts make you feel? What kinds of behaviours do they lead to?
Write down any feelings or behaviours alongside your answers to prompt 1.
What's something you can tell yourself in response to the thoughts from prompt 1 that's kinder or more compassionate to yourself?
Don’t Resist, Engage
Fear of failure drives you towards safety.
You’ll resist taking big chances because that’s where there’s huge risk of screwing it up. You’ll resist speaking up because that’s where you might get singled out and judged. And you’ll resist doing what you think is right in case you get laughed right out of the room.
Resistance is what your brain does as a means of keeping you safe, often without you even knowing, but what you have to realise is that the stress and anxiety of resisting great work is far greater than the energy needed to simply engage as you already are.
Resistance is what stifles creativity and innovation, turns work into struggle, and prevents you from doing truly great work. The answer is simply to choose to engage. Give it your all. Use your whole capability. Lean into growth and possibility.
You’re more likely to fail by resisting, than you are by engaging.
Think of times when you've spent more energy resisting where you've been or what you're doing than simply engaging with it?
How did spending that energy make you feel?
In which situations do you have a tendency to want to stay safe (like speaking up, being first, making a bold choice, etc)?
What are your reasons for leaning towards safety in those situations, and how valid are those reasons?
Where, specifically, can you make a choice to engage with everything you've got rather than resist or struggle?
How could engaging simplify your experience here?
Now, let’s get down to brass tacks...
Those 3 strategies will work and get you a better experience, but the fact is there’s no way of knowing how things will turn out ahead of time, and it’s entirely possible that you might screw up and experience failure.
But so what? You’ve screwed up before, and you’re still here. You’ve failed before, and you learned from it. You’ve been there when the shit hit the fan, and you got through it.
Failure is just something that happens from time to time, like a rain shower, a lost phone, or a bad burrito. It’s no more an indicator of how good you are, how capable you are, or how valuable you are than a hole in your sock is an indicator that you can’t be trusted to wear clothes.
When you get down to it, failure isn’t what you should be fearing after all.
Even scarier is not being willing to fail in the first place.