Overcome Your Fear and Lead

“Never take council of your fears.” That’s a quote attributed to many legendary leaders over the years. They knew what many of us are still discovering – that fear has the power to cower the best of us into making foolish decisions or taking irresponsible actions (or inaction).

We all experience fear. The more leadership responsibility you accumulate, the more fear you’ll have to negotiate.

Leaders who don’t conquer their fears will exploit the fears in others.

Here are 7 common fears you’ll need to overcome to lead effectively.

Fear of Criticism (or What Others Think)

It’s a common debate in the sports world whether coaches make crucial in-game decisions based on the best likelihood to win the game or to avoid criticism from the media afterwards. For leaders, like coaches, fear of criticism must be overcome if you want to win.

If you stand up or speak up for anything, you’ll be criticized from time to time. But as Theodore Roosevelt said, “It it not the critic who counts… [but] the man who is actually in the arena… who spends himself in a worthy cause….” No criticism, no worthy cause.

Fear of Loss

Study after study has shown that we humans experience the pain of loss to a greater degree than the joy of gain. In short, we hate losing more than we love winning. But progress is preceded by risk. To the degree you are willing to risk (and learn to calculate risk effectively), you’ll be able to lead at new levels.

Fear of Failure

When was the last time you failed? If it’s been awhile, you may need to push yourself to try harder. Believe it or not, failure can be immensely productive. It’s a prerequisite for progress because of the growth and insight it produces.

Never trust a leader with no failures on their record.

Fear of the Unknown

How sure should you be before you move forward? 70% sure. At least, that was one particular business executive’s rule of thumb. There is no such thing as complete certainty, and the time and resources it takes to gain an extra degree of insight can quickly exceed the cost of a failure!

By definition, the future is unknown. But it can be unknown positive as much as negative – and no one wants to follow a pessimist into the future!

Fear of Being Wrong

Can you imagine a classroom of students who never spoke up for fear of being incorrect? Not only would they stunt their own development, the experience would be excruciating.

If “to err is human,” why are we so afraid being wrong? Do we hold ourselves to a superhuman standard of leadership?

Ultimately, the fear of being wrong is another form of fearing what others think – and it’s a fear leaders need to leave behind.

Fear of Rejection

If you don’t ask, the answer is always no, which is the same as it would be if you had been rejected. Jia Jiang said it best in his masterpiece Rejection Proof, “By not even asking, we are rejecting ourselves by default—and probably missing out on opportunity as a result.” The best yeses are on the other side of the nos. What’s required to get there is the courage to ask.

Fear of Being Held Accountable

Fear of accountability, or as I like to call it, the fear of the finger, is the last fear leaders must overcome. No one wants to be stuck holding the bag when things go wrong, but leadership is by definition the ability to take ownership. Ex-Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin sum it up best in their book Extreme Ownership: “The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame.”

Where fear leads to enslavement, accountability is the pathway to freedom.

What fears are you experiencing right now? Have you named them? Acknowledge them for what they are, but don’t empower them. You can’t conquer your fears if you never experience any. We need leaders who can rise above their fears now more than ever. We need you.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, facilitator and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting work Nathan is doing with young professionals.