When my SEAL task unit was deployed to Iraq in 2003, we were tasked with performing capture or kill missions in conjunction with the CIA. Essentially, this meant raiding houses in and around Baghdad looking for bad guys. This was the first combat tour for all of us. But we had to get over our fear quickly, or suffer the consequences. Luckily, our training kicked in exactly as it should. During our first gunfight, not one man hesitated. Instead we assaulted the enemy fighters head on in a small stairwell. Our team members were doing their best to get into the fight, not out of it.
Entrepreneurs aren't necessarily facing life or death situations--though it can feel like it! But fear is present nonetheless. You go from being an eager person with a great idea to a leader, manager, and source of inspiration. Here were my biggest fears when I started my company, and how I conquered them.
Failing at anything sucks, especially when all eyes are on you. When leading a team, failure can come in many forms. Making bad financial decisions. Bringing in the wrong people. Overpromising and under delivering. The list goes on and on. Mistakes are inevitable, so accept that. When you make them, own them and let the team know how you're going to right the ship.
In the SEAL teams, public criticism is the norm. As the public face of a business, your shortcomings will be highlighted more than your strengths. So get out in front of it. Face the fear of criticism head on by regularly requesting anonymous feedback from your team. This can be done by using 360 degree reviews or surveys with specific questions about how effective you are in your role. Or simply ask, "How am I doing?" Humility goes a long way.
3. Public Speaking.
The fear of public speaking tops the charts in surveys worldwide. I attended business school after leaving the SEALs. Imagine a combat hardened veteran presenting in front of a class, hands shaking. That was me. My recommendation? Take every opportunity you can to speak in front of audiences. This could be during meetings, in client presentations, guest lecturing at local universities, or speaking at industry conferences. The more you do it, the more confident you'll be. In fact, the more speaking I do, the more my overall confidence has developed.
Decision-making is critical for business leadership. Notice I didn’t say "good" decision-making. Sometimes it's just about making a decision and moving forward. Analysis paralysis can cripple an organization. Poor decisions will be made. (Refer back to the failure section.) But the ability to learn how to make decisions in highly chaotic environments is critical for a business owner. So be prepared, use the information at hand, and make the best possible decisions you can. When you miss the mark, don't wallow, adjust quickly.
As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Being responsible for people's livelihood can be a stressful burden. But remember it's a good problem to have. Embrace the fact that you have a team to lead. Working together will lighten that burden of responsibility.
Whatever frightens you, face it head on. You will quickly realize that you had nothing to fear.