Overcoming Your Fears…

This week I’ve had a number of conversations with clients (male and female) and other contacts regarding one theme – how do leaders overcome fear. There is much truth in the loneliness of reaching the top of organisations. Suddenly we are thrust into the spotlight of making decisions – sometimes with little evidence or time – and many times without the guidance of a wise other.

These situations can sometimes be exciting and exhilarating. We are free! Able to choose our pathway. At other times, and perhaps more than not, the situations can sometimes leave us frozen. Do I fight? Do I freeze? Do I carry on regardless?

Perhaps the most difficult part of all is the emotional anxt we feel as we recognise the fear that is creeping into our minds. That inner voice that is starting to go wild and for many, that grasping knot in our stomach as we grapple with the right way forward.

My father once said to me that fear is purely the unknown. Once we can step into the unknown the fear dissipates. And of course there is that marvellous book by Susan Jeffers called ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’.

Anyway, back to the conversations I’ve had this week. One conversation was with a member of the WLA who was completely stuck as to whether to apply for a promotion. Initially the problem was taken out of her hands as the promotion was only open to those above her grade. But within a couple of weeks more grades were invited to apply. Now she was gripped with fear. Who am I to apply for this big role? What have I got to offer? I’ve not had an interview forever? Why ever would they want me? And on and on. Waking at 4 in the morning churning the decision over and over.

Fortunately, with the help of a mentor she completely reframed the problem. What if I did apply? What if it worked out? What could I learn along the way? How do I turn this into a great way to make myself visible? So she decided to overcome her fear by applying anyway.

Whilst she didn’t land the job, she had amazing feedback, has the eye of a great many new stakeholders and has been promised a promotion anyway!  She is extremely proud of herself. She added that she had not recognised how she was one of those women who held themselves back waiting to be spotted or invited to step forward. (This is such a common thing I see with many women).

Another leader was describing how he had said yes to a charity event, with no clue as to the ‘how to’. A significant personal challenge, no experience, no understanding. But felt called to do it. So he did. And as always, all of the potential anxt (that he felt prior to the yes), vanished as all the necessary resources fell into place.

But what about that emotion that pops up when fear is on the prowl. It can be deeply unsettling. I know. There have been many times I’ve been gripped with fear. Fear that I can’t do it. Fear I will be judged. Fear I have made the wrong call. Fear that I’m not ‘enough’ in all its myriad of forms. And the more I expand and grow in the work I’m doing the more fear I seem to be experiencing! What I do know is that when I feel that emotional grip inside, I know it’s time to do something about it. And here are a few suggestions for how you may overcome the fear you feel:

  • Sit with it. Yes I know that sounds weird. But sit with the emotion and see what comes up. Often you’ll get an image or a conversation or a whisper that helps you understand the ‘why’. Once we have a reason for our fear, we can usually pretty quickly come up with solutions.
  • Write about it. This is THE most helpful strategy I use. I take pen to paper and I write what’s playing on my mind. There are two great benefits to this. Firstly, emptying your mind of its hustle is really freeing. You will nearly always feel better as you are no longer holding on. And secondly, I always get insights I was not aware of (this process taps into our subconscious mind).
  • Another great tip is to play out in your mind’s eye – What’s the worse that can happen? And see the video run it’s course. And the flip it on its head. What would be the best thing that could happen? And see what insights pop up for you.
  • Do it. Step into the fear. And trust. Don’t rationalise or analyse. Just do it. Half the problem with fear is that we can’t make up our mind. By doing something about it you are well on the way to overcoming that fear.

So if you are noticing you are holding yourself back against making a decision, you may want to explore what the fear is really about. We all experience it. No matter what level, what gender, what sector. It’s a human condition. As leaders, we have to find ways to get comfortable with fear and have our own strategies to overcome what we are experiencing.


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