Updated: Aug 16, 2021
Reluctant Leaders: Overcoming Fear, Anxiety and Insecurity
Oddly enough, if you were to survey any number of people who serve in leadership roles, regardless if they are recognized by an authority or not, or possess designated leadership roles in an organization or not, you will find one very interesting fact that they have in common: Most Leaders never actually wanted to be leaders in the first place! Many of us have strategically crafted our lives to evade leading others in any capacity, we don’t necessarily consider ourselves as role models or influencers, and believe it or not, even though we exude an immense amount of confidence and charisma, we are often plagued by paralyzing fear, anxiety, and insecurity. A famous example of this paradox is the often referenced “Imposter Syndrome”. In Psychology Today’s article entitled, “The Reality of Imposter Syndrome (September, 2018, by Megan Dalla- Camina), “imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud”. Moreover, it is possible to feel confident and at ease in certain situations in your life and workplace, and become completely unhinged in others. Confidence is slippery and unpredictable; sometimes it shows up strong, and sometimes it hides from us.
What’s most important is recognizing areas of our lives where we’ve been plagued with fear, anxiety and insecurity, and taking the time to explore those areas, within the safe confines of a healthy and supportive relationship, to allow us to quiet the seemingly loud voices in our heads that say, “ I can’t do this… You won’t be successful at that… I’m not worthy or deserving of that (fill in the blank)”. Without taking the time to explore and quite these voices, they will inevitably sabotage everything that we are trying to build, both personally and professionally. Ultimately, we will have to strengthen our Forgiveness muscles: for both ourselves, and for others. Forgiveness gives us the resilience to bounce back from hurts, disappointments, and mistakes, and opens the door to freedom and strengthened relationships with ourselves, and those around us.
It is impossible for us to efficiently and effectively lead others, without first starting by leading ourselves. It is impossible to hold space for and embrace diverse ideas, behaviors, and personalities, if we are unsure as to what our core values, beliefs and motivations are as well. Without an intrinsic desire to be a life- long, introspective learner of ourselves, we will fail miserably in being able to simultaneously adapt to our ever- changing business and global landscape, while staying grounded in the universal principles of trust, empowerment, and community. Considering these factors, it is imperative that Leaders consider the following:
1) What is my definition of Leadership? How has my definition of Leadership changed over time, and what was the catalyst for those changes?
2) Who am I as a Leader? What is my vocational aptitude, personality type, learning style, work style preferences, and conflict style (List them there)? What is my Leadership style?
3) What are my emotional, physical, spiritual, and financial core values and goals, and how are those values and goals related to who I am as a Leader?
4) How adept am I at navigating change and transitions in uncertain and ambiguous situations; making pivots in my belief systems when presented with new information; and solving problems using creativity and critical thinking? Am I resourceful, as in being willing and able to seek help when needed? Am I an effective influencer and collaborator?
5) What is my personal S.W.O.T.? S.W.O.T. stands for Strengths, Weaknesses (internal), Opportunities, and Threats (external).
Answering these questions thoughtfully and honestly will being to paint a picture of who you are as a person, in relationships, with colleagues, and as a Leader. The beauty of life is that every morning, we have an opportunity to wake up and make changes in areas that we aren’t happy with from yesterday. We are never stuck; we are only in search of a new answer, new goal, or a new opportunity for growth.
Once we’ve gained a realistic, working knowledge of who we are as Leaders, we can then begin to explore how we influence others, and vice versa. In our increasingly complex and inter-connected global landscape, never has the need for emotional and cultural intelligence been so critical to success in leadership.
Emotional & Cultural Intelligence
According to Nicole Berile (LinkedIn) in her article entitled, “The Link Between Cultural Intelligence (CQ) and Emotional Intelligence (EQ)”, Barile posits that, “EQ is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions, and the emotions of others. CQ is the ability to relate to and communicate effectively with people from other cultures”. Barile suggests that both EQ and CQ are impacted by our depth of self-awareness, comfort with ambiguity, and level of empathy, but goes on to say that what really anchors these two concepts are communication, and our abilities to adapt and change. I posit that adapting to change expands to include our abilities to change our perspectives of ourselves and the world around us; to release coping mechanisms that no longer serve us; and to have the courage to explore known and hidden biases and stereotypes, in the face of new facts and relationships. Essentially, EQ and CQ allow us to be more nimble and efficient in our ability to process new information, integrate that information into our current world views; synthesize the similarities, have empathy with the differences; and pivot as needed. In the age of accelerations of global commerce, rapid technological advancements, and industry disruptions and reconfigurations, Leaders will need all of the help that we can get, both to keep up, and to prepare ourselves and others to thrive in the future.
Interpersonal Communication and Conflict Management
Wouldn’t life be so much better, if it were just me?! That’s the myth that we so often tell ourselves, but we know in reality that it is not true. What that sentiment really echoes in the underlying fear of being unsure of how to manage differing viewpoints, priorities, and values; of being afraid that if we are challenged to change, we may also loose valuable parts of ourselves and our identity in the process; of having an apprehension of and wishing to avoid conflicts and difficult conversations. As Leaders leading others, these challenging situations come with the territory, but we can be better equipped to handle them when they inevitably arise, by strengthening our skills in interpersonal communication and conflict management strategies.
According to Wilson Employment Network’s article “10 Tips for Improving Interpersonal Communication Skills,” Leadership should practice giving and receiving feedback; gaining clarity and understanding through active listening techniques, open-ended questions, and paraphrasing; being aware of our body language and that of others; and being respectful of other people’s thoughts and opinions, through the use of EQ and CQ.
However, we’ve all been in situations where what we know to do is being overrun by a flood of strong, competing emotions, propelled by perceived hurts and disappointments. In situations that have escalated to this level of intensity, it is important to take a deep breath, ground yourself in active listening and clarifying questions, which buys you some time to self-regulate your own emotional upheaval, and bring all of your skills to bear, in the realm of conflict management…
Repeat after me: Conflict is ALWAYS good!! The first step to reducing our fear and anxiety when it comes to conflict is to challenge the paradigm that conflict is always bad, and leads to the inevitable disintegration of relationships and societies as we know it. Conflict, as described by Business Dictionary.com is: friction or opposition resulting from actual or perceived differences or incompatibilities”. Instead of thinking that conflict is always bad, let me challenge you to think of conflict as an opportunity for meaningful dialogue, to learn what really matters most to yourself and to others, and to further explore “actual or perceived differences or incompatibilities”. In reality, when we approach conflict from the mindset of it being an opportunity to dig deeper and learn more about ourselves and others, and when we bring our EQ and CQ tools to the table, we may indeed find that our differences are mostly “perceived”, and that we can unite amongst the universal core values of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. It also helps to be aware of our own default conflict style as well, so that it doesn’t get in the way of our ability to hear and to heal.
According to the American Management Association article entitled, “The Five Steps to Conflict Resolution”, once we’ve identified conflict as an opportunity for a deeper understanding and growth, we can then:
1) Identify the source(s) of the conflict- systems and processes vs personalities
2) Look beyond the incident- be comprehensive in scope
3) Explore Solutions
4) Identify solutions that both parties can support
5) Reach an agreement
In situations where gaining agreement using the foregoing methods have proven unsuccessful, and there has already been a considerable evaluation of the surrounding systems, processes, and workflows, as they pertain to the conflict, it may be helpful to go one step further, and identify the underlying needs or fears of the individual, which may be sabotaging reconciliation. In his book, “Dealing with Difficult People”, author Chris Brady identifies seven different personality traits, which we can ALL possess, especially if under stress or pressure: The Diva, the Boss, The Bureaucrat, The Victim, The Autocrat, The Bungee Jumper, and The Politician. When our core physiological needs for food, water, shelter and clothing, security, self- esteem, or belonging are threatened, we tend to revert to more primal methods of defense, which can cause use to boldly display our default difficult personality. Even here EQ and CQ can go a long way towards restoring trust and respect.
Team Formation and Development
Leading groups of individuals towards a common goals is an admirable, yet daunting task. Since each team is comprised of individuals who possess diverse ideas, experiences, perspectives, and skill sets, Leaders much have a healthy understanding of the building blocks of team formation and development. In 1965, Bruce Tuckman identified four phases of team development:
1) Forming- Trust is unknown and knowledge is hidden
2) Storming- Distrust, knowledge hoarding
3) Norming- Knowledge sharing and collaboration
4) Performing- Knowledge creation and synergy
Successful Leaders expect that there will be obstacles in team development, and prepare both themselves and their teams to navigate these sometimes rough waters, towards consistent high- performance. As the team develops through the stages, if not given the vision, resources, and encouragement necessary to successfully complete the group objective, the team can experience a few notable dysfunctions. Author Patrick Lencioni introduces these challenges in his book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”:
1) Inattention to Results
2) Avoidance of Accountability
3) Lack of Commitment
4) Fear of Conflict
5) Absence of Trust
One additional pitfall for Leaders can occur when you are leading a team of LEADERS!! By this, I mean that you are responsible for individuals who are competent, creative, and experts in their own right, and maybe even more so than you are, in certain areas. Leading Leaders presents a few unique challenges, and ones that we see fairly often, particularly when a group of very capable people get together, and struggle to produce meaningful and sustainable results. There is one thought that comes to mind when I consider this scenario: knowing when to lead, and when to follow… Leaders tend to think that it is our responsibility to lead everywhere, and in every scenario, although this may not be the best strategy for the group outcome. We must understand when it is our time to lead, and when it is our time to support those in leadership, with an attitude of genuine respect and collaboration. This is where the Transformational Leadership approach, coupled with a desire to promote the intrinsic motivation of the group as a whole, can be very helpful (Insert from dissertation).
When leading Leaders, it is helpful to put the following frameworks in place:
1) Someone, or a selected group, has to take ownership of the project or initiative!! I know this sounds obvious, but when you get a bunch of Leaders at a table together, you would be surprised how often this step gets overlooked. Everyone assumes that because we are all Leaders, we will all intrinsically just know how to work and collaborate together… Not true!! Also, Leaders can sense when there appears to be no one running the ship, or if there is a dearth of leadership present, and many of them will seek to fill that void themselves, to the peril of your leadership strategy, or that of the organization.
2) Be sure that you have the right people on the team. How each individual will contribute should be considered and thought through ahead of time. Leaders who share identical skill sets must be shown how they are expected to individually add value towards the group goal.
3) The terms of collaboration, roles and responsibilities, and lines of accountability must be clearly defined and documented up front. Also, project plans drafts or initiative phases should be crafted, and distributed before the initial meeting, to make the most of the group mastermind and planning opportunities.
4) Lastly, but most importantly, the Leader(s) of this group must ensure that the group stays on track, and foster a sense of community and trust between the collective Leader group. Remember: Most Leaders are used to leading and working in isolation, with very little support. To get the highest level of performance out of Leader groups, trust is of the utmost importance.
Utilizing these techniques as we lead others, and keeping tabs on how we are leading ourselves, will ensure that our own fears, anxieties, and insecurities, compounded by the fears, anxieties, and insecurities of those who we lead, will not sabotage our forward momentum towards the achievement of shared goals and visions.