Debunking the established model of the ‘hero leader’ is never easy. Chris Cancialosi walks us through the fear factor.
The fearless leader fallacy harkens back to the “great man” theory of leadership, which portrayed effective leaders as those who charge fearlessly into the melee to save the day. They were “born to lead” and “looked fear in the face without blinking an eye.”
Maybe this resonates with some folks out there but, for me, it never quite sat right. I served overseas in combat as an officer in the military. I’ve started and grown a company that now employs more people than I could have ever imagined. By all measures I am a successful leader but I am far from fearless. In fact, every time I begin to think I have a clue about what I’m doing, something comes along that frankly, scares the living daylights out me.
I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone. I don’t believe that successful leaders and entrepreneurs are fearless. I believe that the most successful leaders and entrepreneurs among us are just as fearful as the rest of us. What sets these men and women apart is what they do in the face of fear.
To me, being fearless means pushing forward with reckless abandon no matter what the risks. Evolution has seen to it that we as human beings have held onto the emotion of fear for good reason. Fear serves us well. It kept our ancient ancestors from putting themselves in dangerous situations, thus, keeping them alive long enough to reproduce.
Unfortunately, many of the things we fear today are no longer physical threats. Fear of what we perceive to be threats, whether it’s the fear of the unknown or the fear of failure, can be so overwhelming that it paralyzes us.
But fear is not necessarily a bad thing. It means that you’re pushing the envelope and doing things that take you out of your comfort zone. It means that you care enough about the livelihood of your organization that perceived threats to your sustainability cause an emotional reaction.
Dr. Joey A. Collins, Assistant Professor of Industrial-Organizational Psychology at Seattle Pacific University, adds that, “Effective leaders demonstrate a high degree of self-awareness and are mindful of their feelings. It is not that they don’t feel fear — they do. They are just more aware of their fear and better able to process the threat that is signaling it.”
Fear is not necessarily your enemy. The difference is what you do when confronted by these fears. Here are 4 ways to begin to face your fears as a leader in your organization:
Know that you’re not alone.
It may not be easy to admit that you’re afraid as a leader, but I’ll be the first to step up beside you and tell you that you’re not alone. Leading is an enormous responsibility. You have to make sure you make payroll, keep your customers happy, inspire your team and read and adapt to changes in the market on a daily basis. As an entrepreneur you know all too well that if you don’t stay on top of everything going on, someone out there will seize the opportunity to eat your lunch. That’s enough to make even the most stalwart of us blink from time to time.
Ask yourself honestly, what’s the worst that can happen?
At this point in my career I have come to the conclusion that I am absolutely unemployable. As an entrepreneur for ten years, there is zero percent chance that I’ll ever be able to work for someone else again. Entrepreneurs have no safety net. No backup plan. But when I stop and think about the worst possible scenario, I’m able to manage the fear that generates from these thoughts.
If your worst business nightmare came true, what would happen? Acknowledging this can help you push through the fears that come up when you’re faced with critical decisions.
Acknowledge that failing doesn’t make you a failure.
As a leader and an entrepreneur, it can feel like the world is resting on your shoulders. And with so much riding on your decisions, failing is a tough pill to swallow. But, the truth is that everyone fails at one point or another.
(NB. This article originally appeared on Forbes.)