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Eliminate Bad Leadership: How to Overcome Your Leadership Fears

Eliminate Bad Leadership: How to Overcome Your Leadership Fears

by | Feb 18, 2021 | By David Dye, Winning Well

Avoid These Fear-Based Bad Leadership Practices

Insecurity and fear can drive you to bad leadership practices that ruin relationships and limit results. You can overcome these leadership fears and increase your influence with these five straightforward steps.

You’re at your desk, head pounding, anxiety gnawing deep in your gut. The email you just received stares back at you from the screen and you:

  • Worry that the problem in front of you is too big.
  • Fear that you screwed up and there’s no salvaging it.
  • Are anxious that you aren’t up to the challenge.
  • Wonder if you’ll never hit the numbers you need.
  • Think that this time, “they” will finally realize you’re a fraud.

Bottom line: you’re scared.

We may use a bunch of other words to describe it, but it’s all fear. And it’s normal. These are the leadership fears that come with your choice to take responsibility.

The Problem with Fear

You’ve seen what happens when a leader’s insecurity or fear takes over: they shut down, get defensive, lash out in anger, or depression takes over and they give up. They push people away or abuse the people they need most. In short: bad leadership.

When fear dominates, you can’t serve your team well and you’re more likely to make poor decisions. Managing your own fear is a critical leadership skill so let’s take a look at how you can make friends with fear and maintain your influence.

5 Ways to Overcome Leadership Fears that Cause Bad Leadership

When fear starts to shut you down, it becomes your entire world. You see everything through its dark veil. When that happens, the best way to ease its grip is with perspective. The first two ways to master your fear help you regain that perspective:

1) Focus on Gratitude

Telling yourself “don’t worry” rarely eases your fears. Instead, introduce some other emotions. Gratitude is powerful choice. Here are some leadership gifts you can focus on:

  • Your team has chosen to serve with you, to contribute their time, their talent, and their work. They don’t have to. They choose to. That’s a gift worthy of gratitude.
  • You affect the world every day. The way you treat people, the products and services you provide, the work you do – all of it makes a difference.
  • You have a team. You are not alone.
  • What you do will outlive you. The products or services you provide will eventually disappear, but what you do for people (both your team and customers) will continue long into the future.
  • The problem in front of you is an opportunity – to learn, to grow, to serve. You have this opportunity when many others do not.

When fear shuts down your perspective, focusing on one or two of these leadership gifts will help you regain your balance.

2) Focus on Which Problem (not If Problems)

This is a powerful technique you can use to counter one of fear’s most powerful effects:

Victim-itis. When fear takes over, it’s easy to forget you have choices and feel trapped. To counteract victim-itis, make a choice.

In choosing to lead, you’ve chosen to have problems. The choice in front of you right now is which set of problems you want to have.

Focus on which problems – not if problems.

Effective leaders don’t spend time trying to avoid problems. Rather, they put their energy into working on the right set of problems – the ones that, once solved, get them closer to their goals.

When you’re scared, remember that you have choices. Often, the problem that had you scared in the first place is one you would willingly choose once you compare it to others.

And, taking it to the next level: picture yourself having resolved the problem you’ve chosen. Picture how you got there and how it feels.

The next steps build on your perspective to re-energize yourself, help you move through the fear to productive action, and avoid bad leadership behaviors.

3) Ask: “How Can I?”

Once you’ve regained your perspective, it’s time to move to responsibility. Nothing drives fear away faster than the realization that you have power in the universe and can actually do something.

Use a “How can I?” question to re-empower yourself: How can I solve the problem or get the results I need?

If your answer is an honest “I don’t know,” then the best answer is to get input from others or do some research. When you truly don’t know, searching for answers and wisdom is a productive step forward.

Taking responsibility for what you can do will ease the fear.

4) Do Something Small

You’ve regained perspective, you’ve reclaimed your power, now it’s time to act.

But if fear and anxiety still have a strong grip, don’t try to do it all. Start with something incredibly small. Something at which you can’t fail. Something that takes 30 – 60 seconds.

  • Email your team to schedule a meeting.
  • Create a file for the topic, take notes on the email, and put it in the file.
  • Call a trusted colleague to get their perspective.
  • Open a document or get a piece of paper and write down your next steps.
  • Write down similar issues you’ve faced and what you did then.

When you take action, you build momentum. Your body assumes that it will continue doing what it’s doing. Almost without realizing it, that one small step turned into three or four more and before you know it, you’re back at work.

Fear, while maybe not vanquished, is just along for the ride.

5) Find Your People

During some of my most anxiety-filled leadership moments, one of the best things I ever did was turn to my team. I didn’t ask them for comfort, rather, I presented the problems, what successful solutions would look like, and asked them for their ideas and to solve it with me.

You’re not alone. Find your team and enlist their wisdom, strength, and talents.

Your Turn

Fear is normal and unavoidable for most leaders. To overcome the fears that often cause bad leadership:

  1. Focus on gratitude.
  2. Focus on which problem (not if problems).
  3. Ask “How can I?”
  4. Do something small.
  5. Find your people.

As a leader, what are you grateful for? How do you maintain your perspective when fear threatens to shut you down? I’d love to hear your answers in the comments!

David Dye helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. He’s the President of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. He’s the award-winning authors of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and hosts the popular Leadership without Losing Your Soul podcast. David is a former executive and elected official. David and his wife and business partner, Karin Hurt, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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