How to Conquer Your Fear as a Leader
When you think of a leader you’re probably envisioning a bold, courageous and fearless figurehead who’s relentless and visionary. The last thing you’d expect from them is to admit being scared. However, a few weeks ago Dara Khosrowshahi did just that. In a farewell memo he sent to his Expedia employees he stated:
“I have to tell you I am scared. I’ve been here at Expedia for so long that I’ve forgotten what life is like outside this place. But the times of greatest learning for me have been when I’ve been through big changes, or taken on new roles — you have to move out of your comfort zone and develop muscles that you didn’t know you had.”
That admittance not only takes guts to share with everyone, it takes strength, self-confidence and brilliance. Not to mention his honesty and eloquence is commendable. We’re quite familiar with the mistakes Travis Kalanick made which tainted one of the most sought after exponential organizations. Now, the incoming CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has his work cut out for him to redefine and recreate that glory that Uber once enjoyed. The task will be an uphill struggle and he knows this.
Admitting and realizing his fear may have put the spotlight on Dara Khosrowshahi, but he’s not the only leader to experience this. In fact, many leaders over the years have at some point faced their fears and learned to adapt and deal with it – though they probably won’t admit it as openly as Mr. Khosrowshahi. What are some of these fears?
1. Making Tough Decisions
Decision making is probably the most critical aspect of being a business leader. When faced with responsibility and shareholders breathing down your neck, making “good” decisions is what defines leaders and their legacy. Decision making is challenging without a doubt. Sometimes you have too much information which can lead to analysis paralysis. Other situations leave you with limited analysis and it’s up to your experience, intuition and gut to make the right move. What it boils down to is not a matter of making correct or incorrect decisions, it’s the ability to learn how to make decisions in highly dynamic and challenging environments. The element of fear kicks in when you’re aware of the ramifications of your decisions. It’s the fear of the timing, cost implications and missed opportunities that makes decision making challenging and fearful.
2. Being Criticized
Every leader has a signature leadership style. While the basics of leadership may be similar, leaders are unique in how they approach problems, make decisions, engage their teams and materialize their vision. When you do things “your way” you’re bound to face resistance and criticism. People won’t always agree with your leadership style and that’s expected. As a leader, you can expect criticism – and a lot of it at times. To deal with this fear, make sure you’re always ahead of it. Start with being self-aware of what you believe in and what you’re aiming to achieve. Then stay on course and don’t let criticism get the best of you. While you can’t avoid or deflect criticism you can let your natural leadership style prevail rather than adopting a style that’s “acceptable” to others.
3. Taking Responsibility
I know it’s cliché to say this, but it’s apt – with much power comes much responsibility. As a leader you know you’re responsible for a lot. There are business numbers to achieve, new markets to tap, innovative products to develop and of course customers, shareholders and employees to satisfy. It’s stressful to be responsible for so much and most definitely fear-worthy. To deal with this fear focus on one primary objective – focus on your team. Sure, your decisions impact the lives and livelihoods of many people, but having a strong, talented team who’s aligned to your vision and purpose is probably the best asset a leader can have to overcome the fear of responsibility. It’ll empower you (by empowering them) to lessen the burden and share the responsibility.
4. Failing At It
The fear of failing is ultimately one that every leader experiences (and some quite often). It’s unavoidable mainly because when you’re challenging yourself to keep raising the bar and taking risks, failing is a likely outcome. Failure can manifest itself in many forms – loss of business, financial losses, hiring the wrong people, lost business opportunities. The list of possible ways you can fail is exhaustive. Failing itself isn’t important or symbolic, it’s what you do next that matters all the most. Failure is inevitable so there’s no point fearing it. So go ahead and make mistakes, but own them and learn from them. Next, communicate to your team what corrective measures or adjustments you’ll be making and what their role will be in it. Remember failures don’t necessarily mean the demise of your leadership. Treat them as opportunities to bounce back stronger.
Fear is only natural to experience as a leader. In Dara Khosrowshahi’s case the fear is quite real and challenging and he accepts it head on. When addressing his Uber team he stated “I’m a fighter. I will fight with every bone in my body”. In essence, he’s ready to take on his fears head-on, much like any and every leader should. There’ll be fears throughout your leadership, but what you do to overcome your fears is what’ll define you.
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