Facing Four Leadership Fears


Mike Ainsworth, Office of the Superintendent

*Article By Stan Toler

I’m told there are over 500 recorded phobias, including Acrophobia—the fear of heights, and Agoraphobia—the fear of situations with difficult escapes. If you lead an organization, you might have experienced a twinge of both. Some have lumped them together under the “Leaderphobia” umbrella.

It doesn’t take much of a climb up the corporate ladder to experience the fear of heights. Each upward step can be less stable and make the climber more vulnerable to the actions or attitude of subordinates. And for sure, many leaders have had a panic attack or two from the closed-in spaces of management. 
From my interaction with other leaders, I think there are at least four main leadership fears.

1. THE FEAR OF FAILURE. 
When some fill the leadership shoes of another, they often spend time waiting for one shoe to drop. Suddenly, their experience (or lack thereof) becomes an issue—at least in their mind. Basically, the only way to gain experience is by experience. But there are a few more things to do: 
• Begin to examine and research the leadership of other leaders. 
• Form an “advisory panel” of leader colleagues or friends for help with immediate issues. 
• Gain organizational insights through discussions with your experienced subordinates.

2. THE FEAR OF CRITICISM. 
There will always be heat in the leadership kitchen, and leaders with thin skins will probably suffer burns. You’re not a leader because you have expertise in every area; you’re there because you have a learning spirit. So how can I overcome the fear of criticism? 
• Recognize that peer “evaluation” comes with the territory. 
• Think about the source, and the emotional context of the critic. 
• Establish a dialogue with critics and gain best practices from their knowledge.

3. THE FEAR OF INADEQUACY. 
Like those you lead, you are the product of your home environment—positive or negative. If you’ve been taught to doubt your ability, you carry that into your leadership. 
• Admit you weren’t hired to be a “perfect leader.” 
• Commit your time and energies into becoming a “better leader.” 
• Remember you’re the leader because your knowledge and experience excels.

4. THE FEAR OF SUCCESS. 
When some leaders receive a reward and respond, “I don’t deserve this,” they really mean it. They hold the gavel of leadership with trembling hands. Behind their smiles, they may have a frown of lingering doubt. 
• Accept excellence on behalf of the team, not yourself. 
• Remember that success is as much a measurement of your effort, as it is your skill. 
• Focus on the mission not the manager.

Above all, don’t forget the tiny word, “TRY,” scares the daylights out of the big word, “FEAR!