Every leader has it. It does not matter how long you have been in leadership. The degree of its manifestation may differ from one person to another depending on attitudinal issues or experience acquired in dealing with its consistent manifestation. Perhaps you are the superstar leader who is never fazed by anything, the Superhero whose armour has no chink. Thumbs up for you! But pause and answer these questions.
Have you ever been worried about the possible outcomes of a decision you were about to take or have just taken? Have you ever been bothered about the possibility of your plans not being actualized? Have you ever expressed concerns about whether your team was on board with you on a direction in which you were about to lead the team? Have you ever felt like a gambler who borrowed money in addition to all that he had and staked it all on a bet he was assured would sweep the stakes, only to be confronted just before the results are declared, with the gnawing thoughts of the possibility of a loss? Have you ever been awake all night wondering where the resources for a project would come from? In spite of several years of standing before an audience to make killer presentations, do you still find yourself having butterflies in your stomach each time you stand before an audience? Have you ever felt, while embarking on a journey, that you might be involved in a fatal accident? If your answer to any of these is in the affirmative, you just got stripped of your Superhero medal! Welcome to reality.
Fear is the elephant in every leader’s room. Avoiding it is never the issue. Mastering it is. Fear is often the actual source of the leader’s worries. My definition of worry is “the interest you pay on a loan you may never take”. Fear has been defined by its acronym as False Evidence Appearing Real. It is the monster that stares us all in the face at the beginning of every new venture, be it a job, an investment or a relationship. More often than not, it takes on a larger than life status that simply overruns our reasoning and begins to suggest and magnify the possibility of outcomes totally at variance with what we set out to achieve. When allowed to fester, fear fosters feelings that fuel the fallacy of incompetence that locks its victim in the paralysis of an initiative.
Fear manifests in four main categories. To succeed, a leader must learn to develop the capacity to confront his worst fears and then move against them. More often than not, it is not the fear that is the problem. It is our perception of a reality steeped in experience, traditions as well as expectations, whether ours or from others.
The first type of fear that every leader experiences is the fear of death. If you doubt it, ask yourself why people care about and spend more on their personal security than they did before they became prominent. Why do leaders suddenly begin to bother about the quality of their diet? Why do they invest in heavier vehicles that handle the road better and with greater comfort? This fear is understandable even if not always justifiable. Leaders are by nature, visionaries. They set goals that they want to achieve. More often than not, they are driven by the outputs or processes that lead to the desired outcomes. So, self-preservation becomes a driving instinct because they don’t want to consider the possibility of not being physically around to complete what they started. Sometimes, the fear is borne out of the experience of a peer whose situation was similar – a workaholic and maybe with a similar health challenge. The news of his demise makes his contemporaries feel like they are the next ones for whom the bell tolls (to borrow the title of the 1940 novel by Ernest Hemmingway). Or the reminiscence of a family tradition that has seen some of its rising stars cut off at the peak of their achievements. In reality, it is not about whether or not a man will die or how he dies. It is about when.
To overcome this fear, every leader must come to terms with the fact that a leader’s success is hardly measured by the quantum of his achievements but the significance of such achievements. Success is like a relay race. A leader must constantly live in baton-passing mode. No matter how fast a runner in a relay race is, he can only finish his own lap. His speed is to complement others and enhance possibility of collective victory. Leaders must live their lives in the consciousness of a legacy rather than material acquisitions.
Immortality for a leader is when he can continue to live in the minds of his followers long after he has left the scene. So, it is not about what he acquires. It is about what he becomes and how many people are impacted by his life. Leaders who live outside of themselves and are heavily invested in others are hardly afraid of dying. This is because before they die physically, they had died to self. Morbidity only sends shivers down the spine of the self-centred.
The second fear that leaders deal with is the fear of rejection. We all desire to be admired, accepted and even applauded. An approval addiction feeds our sometimes over-bloated ego. Many of us take rejection personal. We can hardly live with it when we are confronted with the fact that our position on a matter may not have any backing even with people we had hitherto thought were our allies. Many leaders lead with the illusion that the sun rises and sets in their backyard. So they hate to hear the word “No”. When their position or opinion is not upheld, they take it personal and before long, internalize the aggression. The statement, “I won’t take No for an answer” is borne of the fear of rejection.
The fear of rejection is the only reason why a young man feels a lump in his throat when he wants to propose to the love of his life. It is the reason why many people hardly ask for favours. It explains why some people will never apply for a job that they believe is out of their league. Some years ago, one of my protégés was emboldened by what he read in my book “Why Walk When You Can Soar?” to apply for a higher position that just opened in his place of work. But he saw two problems that pointed to a fear of rejection. He was in the Officer cadre and the opening was a Management position. Secondly, the company did not have a tradition of appointing people from within the organization for an advertised senior position. I encouraged him to go ahead and apply. The worst thing they could say is “No”. He applied. Today he is in the top echelon of the multinational company…continued.
Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!