Mastering any skill usually requires some element of fear-conquering. Leadership is no different.
The first step in overcoming fear is being prepared. When my SEAL Team was operating in Baghdad in 2003, none of us knew how well trained we were until that training was tested in battle. During our first gunfight, not one man hesitated. Our team members were doing their best to get into the fight, not out of it.
Many fears can come into play when leading a team. Entrepreneurs face this head on as their companies grow. You go from being an eager person with a great idea to a leader, manager, and someone who is looked upon for inspiration. Sometimes this happens more quickly than you can anticipate so you must be prepared to handle these inevitable challenges.
These are the five main fears I have faced as a leader and what I did to overcome them.
Criticism. As a leader, your shortcomings will be highlighted more than your strengths. The team you lead looks to you to make the right decisions but most people understand that no one is perfect. In the SEAL teams, you grow thick skin quickly. Public criticism is the norm. There is no HR department. But this process has a purpose because mistakes can cost lives. As a leader criticism is something you should expect so my best advice would be to get used to it. To take it a step further, get out in front of it. Being self-aware is a highly useful quality when carrying the load of leadership.
Face the fear 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. Another way to do this is simply by asking, "How am I doing? What else could I do to be a more impactful leader for this team?" Humility will go a long way.
Failure. Let's face it. Failing at anything sucks. Especially when all eyes are on you. Driven people hate failure more than anything in the world. But you do not become a successful leader without having experienced failure along the way. Unfortunately, this is how most of us gain wisdom. When leading a team, failure can come in many forms. Making bad financial decisions. Bringing in the wrong people. Overpromising and under delivering. Inconsistency. Not properly communicating the vision and what everyone's role is in mission success. The list goes on and on.
But failure is inevitable. When you make mistakes, own them and let the team know what you are going to do starting today to right the ship. Be as prepared as you possibly can and make adjustments along the way.
Making Decisions. 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 good decisions in highly chaotic environments can give you the tools necessary to take your business to the next level.
That said, business isn't combat. Sometimes you have to slow down and take your time. Even if it means missing a potentially good opportunity. Pushing forward too fast and making kneejerk decisions will always lead to major obstacles. Obstacles that cost money. So be prepared, use the information at hand, and make the best possible decisions you can. When you miss the mark, adjust quickly.
Speaking. The fear of public speaking tops the charts in surveys worldwide. I attended business school after leaving the SEAL teams. Imagine a combat hardened SEAL presenting in front of a graduate school class, with his hands shaking. Are you kidding me? But again, as a leader within an organization, one of the things you should be doing the most is publically addressing your team. If you can't do this with confidence then how can you expect your team to follow you into "battle."
My recommendation is to 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. Practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the more confident you will be. In fact, the more speaking I do, the more my overall confidence has developed in any situation.
Responsibility. As the saying goes, with much power comes much responsibility. You are not just responsible to clients and shareholders. Your first priority is to your team. If you put them first, all the rest will fall into place. Being responsible for a person's livelihood can be a stressful burden. As a leader your role is to define the mission, provide resources, and remove obstacles.
Embrace the fact that you have a team to lead. It's a good problem to have. Assuming you have the right people doing the right things, remember that they can be your best resource for important information. Keep them in the loop and ask them to do the same for you. Working together as a team will lighten that burden of responsibility.
These are just a few of the fears that come with leadership. Whatever your fear is, it is always best to face it head on. You will quickly realize that you had nothing to be afraid of.