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Is it OK for Leaders to Be Scared?

by Kevin Eikenberry on October 29, 2012

in Communication, Leadership, Leadership Communication, Learning

are you afraid?At this time of the year being scared or scary is kinda cool – after all it is Halloween!  But this is a short season and leaders lead all year long, so the question asked by the title of this piece is a good one – “is it ok for leaders to be scared?”

Most leaders would say No!  After all they rationalize that leaders must be tough.  Leaders must be out front, leaders should be resilient and heroic.  Think Mel Gibson in Braveheart, Harrison Ford as the President in Air Force One, Sally Field in Norma Rae, or John Wayne in just about any movie… that is often consciously or not, the picture we have of leaders.  And if that is the picture, fear is not in that picture.

My answer isn’t quite so fast or quite so definite.  Is it ok for leaders to be scared?

Yes.

Because we all want leaders who are real, genuine and authentic.  We want leaders we can look up to and can aspire to become.  If you show no fear in very scary situations, people may wonder if you are real, or if you are lying.  If you are scared or afraid, it is ok, perhaps even preferable to let people know you have concerns and see the risks they see.

And yet. . .

As a leader we can’t remain scared.

Even if you are scared, you still must lead.

What do most people do when they get scared? (Think about what you do when you watch scary moments in a movie – because you are doing the same thing the scared person on the screen is doing).  They do nothing.   When we are scared, we freeze up, don’t move, get tentative.  (Ok, maybe we scream).

As a leader we can be scared and feel fear, but cannot stop, and be frozen in our tracks doing nothing.  We must take action.  How do we do that?

As the famous book title says, Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Since I’m guessing you would like a bit more than that, here are some steps you can take to lead, even when you are scared.

  1. Realize that as a leader sometimes the view will be scary.  You are out front, looking at a future where you and your team may have never been before.  It is important to know that sometimes that view will cause some fear.  This mental preparation is a good first step.
  2. Recognize your fear, anxiety or angst.  If you have done the first step, you won’t likely be surprised that you have negative emotions, so recognize they exist.
  3. Acknowledge the team’s emotions.  If the team is scared, let them know it is ok; and be genuine with them about your feelings too.
  4. Do a bit of planning if necessary.  If the view is new, you may need to regroup to decide what your next step will be, but your focus here is deciding what to do, not making an excuse to be frozen and inactive.
  5. Take action.  Do something. Anything if necessary.  Know  that the best way to beat fear and build confidence is to take action (for more on this reality, you can read more here.)
  6. Keep the team with you.  Don’t go into the wild unknown alone – you aren’t a superhero, you are a leader.  You are leading people to come with you.  Provide support and encouragement, and remember there is usually safety in numbers.
  7. Get feedback and keep moving. Keep moving forward.  Momentum and action are not only great ways to alleviate stress angst and fear, they are usually the path to success and progress.

Being a leader can sometimes be a scary thing, and being a great leader doesn’t require that you never get scared, but it does require that you keep moving forward.

photo credit: zetson via photopin cc

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Joseph Lalonde October 29, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Great reminder Kevin. As a leader, we often go into the unknown. And that can be quite scary. It’s good to know that it’s okay.

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Karin Hurt November 2, 2012 at 11:55 am

I think it’s also okay to let you know how you are feeling, and then inspire confidence. “yup this one’s scary.. but we’ve seen scary before… and we’ve got this”

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