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6 Fears Holding You Back From Becoming a Great Leader


Wed Nov 30 2016

6 Fears Holding You Back From Becoming a Great Leader

Did you know that the top-ranking fear among most Americans is failure? As humans wired for purpose, we flinch at the idea of not reaching our potential. This is especially true for those on a leadership track, who not only need to be role models to other employees, but also make high-stakes decisions and work extra hard to get promoted to manager or team-lead.

However, what people often don’t realize is that same fear can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We fixate on avoiding failure to such a degree that we never allow ourselves the freedom to embrace challenges, rectify mistakes, learn from disappointments, and experience growth in the process—all the things that help you become a great leader.


Overcoming these six mental blocks can help rescue you from this fearful mindset. Consider how you can tackle each one to become a truly great leader.

“I can’t afford to take a risk.”

Every leadership role demands a significant amount of risk taking, which is often unappealing because there’s a chance you could fail. However, a certain amount of risk is good for you and the business.

"We tend to focus more on what might go wrong—what we might lose or sacrifice—than what might go right. Because what we focus on tends to magnify in our imaginations, it causes us to misjudge (and overestimate) the likelihood of it occurring," says Margie Warrell, author of Stop Playing Safe.

Let it go: Reframe the risk that you feel—“What if this idea does work?” or “What if this great project is going to be what gets me that promotion?” Use this to focus on the positive, rather than the potential negative, to propel you to do better work and become more confident.

“I don’t want to expose myself.”

Assuming a leadership position requires considerable visibility, which means you must shirk the tendency to coast below the radar when you’re trying to get into that position. Instead of hiding, you need to learn how to command the attention of others and be authoritative. This feels intimidating because it urges you toward vulnerability, transparency, scrutiny, and other awkward sensations that people are conditioned to avoid. However, this increased exposure can help you become more persuasive, charismatic, and empowered in the workplace.


Let it go: Offer to help with duties when your boss is out of town. This gives you a chance to prove that you can handle leadership tasks, in addition to making you more visible and showing that you take initiative.

“I have nothing important to say.”

Whenever you share personal insights, opinions, or ideas with another person, you face possible judgment and disagreement. This prospect might cause feelings of inadequacy, provoking you to repress the important opinions you have as a leader. To become a great leader, you need to share your authentic voice, because how you create and express ideas does matter.

Let it go: Once a month, bring a big idea to a meeting or reach out to your boss with a question. This shows those above you that you have the qualities of a great leader and prepares you for commanding a team when you do get that promotion, in bite-size moments that may be less scary.

“I lack the right qualifications.”

Although you might consider yourself the most unequipped candidate for a leadership role, the fact remains that everyone, regardless of background or experience, can make an impact. It’s easy to doubt yourself, however, especially when you’re offered a bigger role within your company.

Let it go: Revisit your resume; use this as a challenge to prove on paper how qualified you are—just to yourself. This will not only prepare your resume in case you need it; it’s also a great way to remember all the hard work you’ve done in the past, and see how far you’ve come.


“I am comfortable in my routine.”

Our modern world is in constant flux, and as such, we’ve become prone to resist even the slightest change in our own lives, especially when it takes us out of our comfort zone. This opposition might offer you familiarity, complacency, and stability, but it can also thwart your ambitions of becoming a great leader.

“Such a comfort mentality is what sets entrepreneurs and businesses apart. Look at all the businesses that were once great companies that settled into complacency and no longer exist,” says Grant Cardone, of Inc.com. To be a great leader, you must stay relevant—overcoming this fear is critical.

Let it go: Do one thing a week that takes you out of your comfort zone, either at home or work. You’ll find that it’s not as scary as you thought.

“I avoid rejection at all costs.”

Human beings want approval, encouragement, and support from their peers, which explains why a lack of acceptance—even when it’s just imagined—can keep people from recognizing their leadership potential. This aversion to criticism, discord, or rejection is natural, but progressing beyond that temptation will give you the confidence to defend the ideas and interests that are important to you and the business.

Let it go: Write a list of possible rejections before going into any meeting where you plan to bring ideas. This will prepare you for potential negative feedback and help you come up with responses. You’ll not only overcome your fear, but also improve your pitch or presentation.

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