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« Startups and the Art of Surfing | Main | Beating Inertia »

Leadership? No Worries

Things to do about that fear stuff.

The deep end can be scary. When I was sixteen, I led an advance party to prepare the site for our annual cadet camp. Small beer, you would think. But not for me.

I was chosen because I’d performed well in other roles but this was different. When I assembled the team, I had no idea what I was doing. The main task was to create tent lines for about 300 cadets. I explained the job to the team. Then everything went quiet.

What got us started?

It wasn’t me. I was still wondering what to do when someone said, “well, let’s get going.” So we did. Simple as that. We didn’t stop, completing the entire preparation ahead of time. The CO was impressed and told me so. I was promoted the following year.

I remember it for two reasons. One was the fear I felt being thrust into a management role. The second was how a simple suggestion from one of the team gave us momentum.

Fear is often the flip side of the uplifting feeling of being handed a challenge. When you get promoted, it’s exciting and motivating. It’s also scary.

I’ve noticed some common elements to this fear.

The first is fraudulence, as in “if they knew what I was really like, they wouldn’t have given me the job.” I felt this once when handed a major regional role. I knew it was an opportunity, but also thought I was only promoted because someone had left. In other words, I was lucky, not deserving.

Another was the so-called fear of success – the notion that if I go well at this, they’ll expect me to go well at everything. Then they’ll find out I’m not good at everything.

The last was the Churchill syndrome – getting stuck in the view that leaders must be tough command-and-controllers who are good at oratory.

Those fears can hold you back.

What can you do about them?

First of all, it’s not fraud. I was promoted because I had what was needed for the job at hand. That’s what happens. Get comfortable with that and you won’t isolate in fear. Don’t be confronted by people with skills you don’t’ have. Instead, embrace them. You are leading a team. Let the members shine. You will too.

Successful leadership doesn’t arrive immediately. It’s always a work in progress. You might have been promoted but you are not the world’s best leader yet. Use this experience to grow into it.

As for Churchill, remember he was also an alcoholic insomniac prone to depression and responsible for some major military blunders. He was pretty handy in the middle of WWII but was voted out when hostilities ceased. Leadership is not a battle. Sun Tzu pretty much said the art of war was not starting one in the first place.

There’s one last thing that really disempowers fear. An empowering moment for me came after I’d been parachuted into a key role running our US business. A trusted colleague asked: “don’t you find this scary?” I almost said no but spluttered out yes. It was like breathing out after holding my breath for two days. If you’re scared, talk about it.

There are lots of ideas like this one in our new book, 60 Second Recharge. It’s a collection of some of our best ideas, together with new material and new illustrations. There’s 50 easy-to-read chapters and over 100 cartoons.  Newsletter subscribers get 25% off if they order now. 

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Reader Comments (1)

What if your main strength IS command-and-control? Sometimes that is what's needed. You make that very point in regard to Churchill.

June 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlehandro Mactieff

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