How to Confront Your Fears and Find Your Leadership “Why!”

Leaders must face their fears to be successful, just like everybody else. The best, most effective leaders may seem like they are always “on,” confident, calm and collected, but I can tell you from personal experience that they deal with fears just like everyone else on the planet. In fact, it’s the ability and willingness to confront their fears that makes them so successful in their roles.

It’s not that great leaders are fearless; rather, they confront their fears head-on and deal with them appropriately in order to move past them. Where others might ignore their fears or lock them away in the hidden corners of their minds, effective leaders shine their brightest lights on them, knowing that the fears they face mark the path forward to success.

One of the big secrets shared by the world’s most effective leaders is that fears are friends. They are stepping stones that lead toward ideal outcomes and the best-possible future. Ignoring them doesn’t make them go away, and procrastinating around them only makes them more powerful and difficult to manage.

Leaders face a number of common fears, and many of them seem to come from external circumstances and scenarios. But perhaps the biggest fears come from inside themselves. In terms of finding a leader’s “why,” it is critical to look inward unflinchingly, ready to confront whatever might arise. It is also necessary to face the unknown, which can be the scariest thing of all. Some leaders never get this far, and they repeat the same mediocre habits that continue to hold them back. The key difference is that best leaders do it all the time.

Let’s explore some of the common fears leaders are confronted with on a regular basis.

The Fears Leaders Face

In my conversations with leaders over the years, the following fears have emerged time and time again. These fears present themselves at critical moments and can often stand between leaders and their objectives. Thankfully, these fears can be overcome with focus, self-awareness and intentional action to move you forward.

The Fear of Failure

Everything about leadership is amplified. An individual who is not in a leadership role might fear failure, but that person is not the only one who is ultimately responsible for an endeavor’s success. Someone in a leadership role might feel a much greater amount of pressure because of their role and the accountability they have to their people and company. They are also subject to an amplified fear of failure. After all, if the endeavor fails, the blame is most likely to fall on them.

Here’s the thing: you will experience failure as a leader. Quite a bit of it, in fact, and that’s okay. Failure does not mean the end of your leadership career. Instead, it is a learning opportunity. How can you do things differently next time? Where did things go wrong? How will you take responsibility and move forward? It requires a shift in mindset to welcome failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. But remember that the learning doesn’t happen unless you are willing to face your fear of failure head on.

Handling Criticism

Leaders are sometimes subject to more criticism than anyone else within an organization because of their elevated role and exposure within the company. Frankly, dealing with criticism is simply part of the job of leadership. So, if you find yourself experiencing criticism, it is not necessarily a sign that you’re failing as a leader. In fact, you could be doing an amazing job and you will still be subject to criticism.

One thing to keep in mind – the absence of criticism is a bigger warning sign than the presence of criticism. In other words, if you find yourself never experiencing criticism, it probably means you are playing it safe and not being bold enough with your leadership.

No matter what, you are going to be criticized, both positively and constructively. If you can learn to embrace this fact, you will go much further in your career.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is incredibly common among leaders. If you are not familiar with the term, I’m willing to bet you’re at least familiar with the feelings it brings up. Essentially, imposter syndrome describes persistent feelings of inadequacy. People who experience it often think that they’ll be “found out” or exposed as a result of their own negative self-talk that keeps feeding them limiting messages on their ability.

It can be helpful to know that almost everyone experiences imposter syndrome at some point in their career. If those feelings of inadequacy arise within you, know that they are not the truth. You can face those feelings, acknowledge them and then debunk them with the facts: You wouldn’t have gotten to where you are without real talent, expertise, ability, hard work and genuine leadership skills.

Making Good Decisions Quickly

Decisiveness and leadership go together. Leaders who are unable to make solid decisions in a timely manner tend to not last long in their roles. But the pressure to make sound decisions quickly can be extremely frightening. What if you didn’t have all the facts? What if it all goes wrong? What if your decision sinks the whole organization? What if you didn’t take enough time and acted rashly?

This is where you must learn to trust yourself and your instincts. You don’t have to be rash, but you do have to make the best of the information you have available to you. Use past experience to your advantage and gather insights from people you trust. Yes, being decisive can be scary, but being indecisive is a much bigger threat to your leadership career.

Not Achieving the Desired Results

As a leader, you are most likely judged by the results you achieve in your role. The world moves at a lightning pace and data has become more important than ever. If you can’t keep up with the fast pace you will most likely get left behind, and that is a scary thought for most people.

This is where many leaders put the proverbial cart before the horse. They focus on the results instead of zeroing in on what they can do right now in the moment in order to achieve those results. My advice? Stay present and focus on what you can do today. By doing that, you can keep yourself and your team on the right track at the right pace.

Having “Difficult” Conversations

It’s not fun to have difficult conversations with team members or to share bad news. But there’s no getting around those types of interactions if you are in a leadership role. As I have written many times before, communication is essential to leadership, and that means having difficult conversations.

The truth is that these types of conversations may never get easier. However, that doesn’t mean that you should fear them. Here’s what I know for sure: The more you avoid difficult conversations, the more difficult those conversations will ultimately become.

You can ease your fears by visualizing conversations before the fact. Imagine them going well. Imagine them going badly. You can even write down what you intend to say, which can help you feel more confident when you deliver the information.

Where Do These Fears Come From?

Most of the fears you have ever experienced do not come from an external source. Most of the time, fear is generated within you and it must be faced and conquered by you.

Looking within yourself can be the scariest thing of all. That’s because all the fears I have written about in this piece (and many more I didn’t highlight) are generated by your thinking, your beliefs and the values you possess.

In order to lead effectively, I believe it is important to determine your leadership “why.” But that’s impossible without looking inward and determining who you really are and what your true values are. When you can look inward and face your fears directly, they become much smaller and manageable. Then, you can confront and conquer them, which will enable you to move forward with a more confident sense of who you are and what you believe in. You will also be able to speak and act from a place of greater authority by facing your fears and shifting your thinking.

This process will move you closer to your ultimate vision of leadership. It takes courage to deal with your fears and not hide from them or downplay the impact they are having on your performance. I am often sharing with leaders that I work with that they need to get comfortable being uncomfortable – that is where growth happens and that is what real leadership is all about.

What Are Your Biggest Leadership Fears?

What fears do you face in your leadership role? How have they prevented you from delivering your best performance? Have you experienced any of the fears I mentioned above?

I would love to hear from you regarding your fears and how you have conquered them. I encourage you to give me a call at 1.855.871.3374 or email me at to continue this conversation.

Ready to partner with LeadersEdge to drive organizational performance?

connect with us