Sep 12 Embrace Fear, Unlock Your Potential
Lately I’ve had many confidential conversations with my C-Suite coaching clients who reveal their lack of self-assurance. Yes, even those perceived as fearless leaders sometimes feel less confident in their capabilities. But what I’ve always found is that the root of the problem is fear, which is usually not justified.
There are 3 core concepts around fear it helps to know.
If you’re walking down a dark alley and your primal instincts sense danger, pay attention. That’s a helpful hard-wired survival mechanism and you ignore it at your peril. In that case, listen to it and acknowledge it with self-awareness so it won’t paralyze you. Take a deep breath to relive the fear, stay calm, and take decisive action.
Mental Fantasy Fear:
There are illogical fears conjured by the untrained mind, which is expert at manufacturing fears that have no basis in reality. I call those “Imagination Running Wild Fears,” and they can ambush you if you don’t cultivate a positive, healthy, resilient leadership mindset.
Transform Fear into Power:
Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of C-Suite leaders and top executives worldwide. I’ve taught them to recognize the Top 7 fears that haunt the C-Suite and learn how to overcome them. We’ve all experienced some or all of them. Let’s dive into them, so you can gain insight into how to redirect that debilitating fearful energy into power, poise, and gravitas.
1) Fear of Being an Imposter
Challenge: Research shows that 78% of business leaders and 75% of women executives have experienced imposter syndrome. We all know the feeling, and how when it surfaces you’re afraid others will find out that you really don’t belong in your role. I hear this all the time from my clients, with questions like: “What if someone asks me how long I’ve been a CEO?” or “What if they ask if I have an MBA or went to an Ivy League school?”
Opportunity: Playing the “what if” game is never good. You have to know your entire backstory and own it. Maybe you didn’t attend an Ivy League school or obtain an MBA. Still, you’ve done other extraordinary things that make you worthy. Those give you a distinct depth and breadth of natural leadership and a unique vantage point of experienced vision.
2) Fear of Failure or Rejection
Challenge: The fear of making a mistake will cause you to avoid calculated risks and career-boosting higher exposure. Then you remain cocooned in the mediocre status quo. Maybe you fear asking for a promotion or doing a presentation to the Board of Directors. So instead you undermine your own advancement.
Opportunity: It takes courage to take risks in life, but this is how we grow as individuals. If you are afraid to lean in and speak up, remember that you won’t get what you want if you don’t ask for it. Failure isn’t fatal, and it can be empowering to fall down as long as you get back up again. The biggest failure is to deny your present opportunities because you fear the future.
3) Fear of Uncertainty
Challenge: A very competent CFO confided to me that she worried there might be a recession, because she’s never been a CFO during a recession. I said, “Yes, but you have been in financial leadership positions during some difficult economic times, right?” She quickly changed her mindset, when I pointed out that she had faced hard economic times and succeeded, and could do it again.
Opportunity: The best leaders know how to pivot, adapt to changing business conditions, and face uncertainty with a “positive possibility mindset.” Train yourself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That takes practice and development, but it is the fastest path to personal growth and professional success.
4) Fear of Judgment
Challenge: Many clients avoid giving high-stakes presentations, even though that can deliver career-changing rewards. They’re afraid of being judged by the audience of decision makers. They underestimate their ability to deliver a captivating, engaging presentation – even though they’re perfectly capable.
Opportunity: To become a charismatic and captivating speaker takes practice, so pounce on every opportunity. I’m a world-renowned public speaker, but I used to be terrified of it. I’m proof that it is a learned skill. One of the coaching engagements I do with C-Suite clients is to help them give more engaging presentations, and I love watching them go from fear of speaking to masterful speaking.
5) Fear of Imperfection
Challenge: Clients have asked me how to memorize a presentation. I tell them don’t. Just drill the key points so you can speak naturally and comfortably. By trying to be perfect, we become unproductive and waste valuable time. More often than not it’s an excuse to avoid forward progress, based on unreasonable fear of stepping beyond the familiar comfort zone.
Opportunity: Don’t strive for perfection. Strive for excellence. I tell my clients something I learned early in my career while a senior Fortune 100 executive. If you are 80% complete, you are good to go. The extra 20% is costing you too much time. Stop spinning your wheels and move on.
6) Fear Something Bad May Happen
Challenge: When we fret over what terrible thing could happen, we give energy to that. But you don’t know the future so you’re throwing energy away that you need to utilize in the moment. A client of mine recently ascended to the C-Suite and starting worrying about not succeeding in that new position. As my dad would say, he let imagination work overtime. That’s a negative fantasy that can turn into a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Opportunity: What you focus on expands. So exercise your creative imagination on good outcomes. Spend your mental energy thinking you’ll succeed, and you’ll increase the chances that you will. Eradicate negative thinking by replacing it will positive thinking and invite success.
7). Fear of Change
Challenge: Life is change, so never fear change or you’ll live in constant fear. Change is the only constant that’s guaranteed to happen. That’s especially true in a dynamic business environment and organization. Fear of change robs you of time, energy, brain bandwidth, and confidence. The best leaders know how to pivot and adapt when change occurs, because without change there is no growth, only stagnation.
Opportunity: Develop your leadership and self-awareness and you’ll be prepared for any change with agile flexibility to adapt. It is only through change that great achievement, performance, and innovation happens.
Identify what you are afraid of and why.
- How realistic is this fear?
- If it happens, will I survive?
- How often does what I fear never happen?
Take lessons from this to learn how to be fearless in the future.
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Sarah Hathorn, CEO of Hathorn Consulting Group, is the go-to-expert in working with leaders and companies to create successful corporate DNA. As an executive coach, consultant and speaker she collaborates globally with clients and brands such as Deloitte, McKesson, Kimberly-Clark, Sherwin-Williams, Home Depot and other leading organizations.
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