Stretching past your fear

Very few leaders will claim that they are fearful of anything. Other words might be used because the word fear in itself is frightful. They might say that they “avoid” something, “mistrust” someone, or have “anxiety” – perhaps more acceptable terms to use.

In the end, if pressed, many good leaders will admit to being fearful of one or more of the following. Which of these resonate with you?

Speaking truth to power

Giving critical feedback

Voicing an opinion that isn’t popular

Failure

Success

Making mistakes

Being less than perfect

Asking for feedback

Allowing others to do things their way

Admitting your talents

Admitting your mistakes

Apologizing to others

When you recognize, name, and work to overcome your fear(s), you also become a better leader and role model for others to follow. A side benefit is that you also become a better human being. I like to think of the work of overcoming these fears as “stretching your boundaries” because they will stretch you, and because once you have the determination to overcome them, you can refine your approach and stretch even further.

Once you admit your fear(s), you can start here to stretch yourself:

Let others know what you’re working on. This may be difficult (requiring some vulnerability), but the wonderful thing is that through your willingness to be open about your fear, the people around you will want to help. You may want to let them know how they can help you, because this can be hard work. Try feedforward by letting them know what you are working on and asking them for one or two suggestions to help you.

Get a partner to support you and create a safe space for you to practice overcoming your fears. I can’t overstate how important it is for you to have a trusted confidant to talk to while you experience moving beyond the fear. This might be a coach, therapist, spouse or friend. A “neutral” third party outside of your organization my help you to find unique ways to move ahead.

Take a small step at a time rather than just leap ahead with the biggest, hardest actions to begin with. Jumping in to speaking to your CEO about all the things he’s doing wrong when you don’t have direct contact with that person may not be the best strategy. You can start by speaking your truth to someone you have developed a good relationship with and is likely to welcome your feedback.

Constantly evaluate yourself in your quest to overcome your fears. Are you feeling stronger, more confident and courageous in the actions you’re taking? What other steps might you need to take? Are you noticing progress in your ability to lead by stretching yourself? What’s the next step you need to take?

Celebrate success along the way as you sense that you are becoming a better leader by stretching yourself and overcoming your fears. This “celebration” can be as small as letting someone know of your progress, buying yourself a latte, or as big as taking a “bucket list” vacation. The important thing is to acknowledge the progress you’re making.

When you fully embrace your fear and move ahead to overcome it, you will become a better leader and human being. What frightens you and when will you begin to stretch yourself to move past it?

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.