How to Handle the Fear of Being a Leader

It’s guest post Monday! Kevin Cole is a writer & entrepreneur at The Mental Playground delivering practical advice on how to navigate the most complex organism known to man: Your Own Mind.

 I sit nervously in the chair as I log in to Skype.

I’m fidgeting like crazy and my heart is pumping out of my chest.

The seconds tick away in slow motion as I’m about to enter the leadership position.

I hit “Video Call” and begin my coaching career.

Breaking the Threshold

When you put yourself in a leadership position, you are faced with a lot of responsibility.

People will start to look to you for guidance. They will ask you questions and you will have to give them answers.

You’re actions are being judged and a strand of doubt can crush your credibility.

Needless to say, it can be pretty intimidating.

On the day that I started my coaching career I knew I was about to embark on a journey of learning and leadership. Fears and doubts were apparent but I marched forward despite of these overwhelming feelings.

Here’s how I have dealt with the fear of being a leader.

1. Practice

This is the first point for a reason. You can’t improve at anything without consistently practicing.

So get in as much time as you can in the leadership position and work at it. It’s the only way you’ll see improvement.

As your skills increase, you will feel more confident and less scared.

2. Transparency

Be totally honest with the people you are leading. Tell them this is a new endeavor and you’re learning as you go.

But make it apparent that this is a team effort and you will do everything in your power to lead effectively.

3. Mental Preparation

Before you enter the leadership position, take a few moments to prepare yourself. Think about how you can help each one of the people you are leading.

Tell yourself that you are still learning and will make mistakes but that’s okay. Get your mind ready to go so there is no “warm up” when you start leading.

4. Presence

When you do start leading, be fully present and in the moment. If you stray away from the present moment, there is a good chance you will start to get into your own head and overthink things.

You will judge yourself and doubt your decisions. So if you start to lose presence in the midst of leading, bring yourself back into the moment and focus on the tasks in front of you.

Being a leader will naturally be scary at times. It comes with the territory of any form of rewarding work. But it doesn’t have to deter you from being an extraordinary leader.

Just recognize that you’re stepping out of your comfort zone and into a whole new world of possibilities.

Enjoy the position, learn a lot and change lives.

Questions: Have you had to deal with the fear of leading? How do you handle the fears you have?


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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51 thoughts on “How to Handle the Fear of Being a Leader

  1. Kevin – some great points here.

    For me, the first time I was leading – whether a team, or a coaching client – I found focusing on my strengths worked to give me confidence. Especially when coaching people that are older than me. My insecurities say I’m inexperienced in life, therefore why would this person be happy to be lead by me?

    But the point is that they ARE – they decided to take the meeting. Which means I must have something to offer that they value.

    Great to see you on Dan’s blog, Kevin!

    – Razwana

    • That’s a really good point. The age thing definitely comes into play from time to time. I’m younger than everybody I coach, but I have also put in wayyy more time in the land of lifestyle businesses. So by focusing on my strengths and recognizing I have skills these people are seeking, the fear will definitely dissipate. Really solid stuff Razwana.

  2. Isn’t it interesting how we’re all afraid of different things. I would love to sit down and give someone advice (I think it’s the mom in me), but blogging – and today, launching a book on my blog, scares me to death. So I was very glad to see your post in my inbox this morning! Love your parting remarks: “just remember you’re out of your comfort zone and into a whole new world of possibilities. Enjoy the position. Learn alot. And change lives.” Thanks for that great advice.

  3. I am great at getting into my own head.. so staying present is definitely an important step for me. I second guess myself about 50 times even when I’m answering questions on forums, or yahoo answers, how’s that for leadership qualities? Haha. Good post Kevin!

    • Haha I’ve been there Ragnar. You just got to recognize that you’ve worked hard in your life and that you’ve learned valuable lessons. Whether it’s a blog post, forum post, or a Yahoo answer – you can share that knowledge with others.

  4. I’ve been in a ministry leadership position for over 12 years now, and there are still times I am afraid – rolling out a new initiative, confronting another leader, not seeing the results we thought we would see. There are always plenty of ways to be afraid. But the main way I overcome that fear: spend as much time with Jesus as I can and trust that, even if I make a mistake, he will work it out for good. Great thoughts, Kevin!

  5. Your post reminds me of the quote by Ambrose Redmoon

    “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”

    There’s always going to be fear, the question is, what are you going to do about it.

  6. Enjoyed the post. I believe there are two types of fear. The normal fear that we experience when encountering some occurrence in our life. Then there is the spirit of fear. The spirit of fear is that crippling fear that causes you to hide from your responsibilities. It holds you hostage from living and leading your best life. It keeps you from realizing your true leadership position. You overcome the spirit of fear by focusing on your assignment, linking up with encouraging people, letting go of the past and doing it afraid.

    • Great point about two different kinds of fear, Bernard. The “normal” fear helps keep us safe. The “spirit of fear” keeps us too safe. We need to recognize both in our lives and move forward accordingly.

    • The spirit of fear is genius Bernard. Normal fear is what keeps us from doing things that could potentially kill us. But the spirit of fear is exactly what it sounds like – a spirit.

      It is just an illusion brought on by our own emotions. If we peel back the truth behind the spirit of fear, there is nothing there. All we have to do is take the forward steps to see the facade of the spirit of fear.

  7. This post brought two memories from my past about leadership. 1) when I was a teen, still in High School, I was given the responsibility at our family Exxon station to be a shift manager (back then we carried cash and a coin changer and pumped gas for the customer). I was “leading” men much older than I was and was scared. I was not given an option but a duty. I did it. 2) After working side by side with guys that would become my pals at my first “Corporate IT job”, I was promoted to be a team lead… leading… you guessed it, my pals. Again, the boss knew enough not to ask if I “wanted” to do this. He was preparing me for a career in leadership.

    Great post. Thanks for letting me share.


    • Those are two great life experiences, Charles! I’m sure you learned so many valuable nuggets of wisdom during those times. Thank you for taking the time to read and share.

    • Those are great stories Charles. It’s crazy when we look back at these terrifying moments and realize that they were exactly what we needed to evolve as a person. I’m sure my journey into coaching will prep me for sooo many things in the coming years. Great stuff man.

  8. I struggle with even calling myself a leader, but I read Dan’s new book and am working on it. But, my husband is an awesome leader, and I learn so much by watching him. He took a new leadership position where he works (been there 20 years) about 3 years ago, and yeah he was absolutely afraid of how people would receive him as a leader. But, he refuse to live in fear moved forward using pretty much the steps outlined in this post. In addition, one other thing he did that I think was huge in setting him up as a successful leader was by working hard. One of his biggest strengths is to be a hard worker, something he learned growing up on a farm. Few people can outwork him. So, he simply dove into the position and worked extremely hard, willing to do whatever was needed. People seem to respect him as a leader because of this.

    • Hey Kari, I know exactly what you mean about struggling to call yourself a leader. I used to feel the same exact way and still do to some degree. I definitely think hard work is a huge factor when it comes to dealing with this. It really does require a lot of time and effort to get past these fearful moments and into a place of complete confidence. Awesome addition to the post.

  9. Great thoughts Kevin. I remember beginning my leadership journey years ago. Someone else believe in me and my leadership abilities before I did. I found myself in leadership before i was “ready”..infact i said no to that opportunity but was shooed to the front anyway :) My biggest fear was responsibility. I liked my carefree life and wasn’t too keen on changing things to accommodate others. But a decade+ later, i sure I am someone glad believed in me when I didn’t!

    Dan – sorry about the glitch! Hope you are able to sort it out soon!

    • That’s an awesome story Ngina. The responsibility factor definitely plays a solid part in my fear. For my whole life I’ve been able to defer to other people for pretty much everything. But now I am front and center. I have full responsibility for whatever happens. It’s all part of the learning process and I am definitely looking forward to the journey. Thank you so much for sharing your story :)

  10. I often have to deal with the fear of wondering what will people say or think about me after I preach. Sometimes this type of a fear can cause me to pull back and do less, sometimes it stalls my preparations and sometimes it can get me down after the fact. I found that the best solution is to stop worrying so much about what people say and think and worry instead about what God says and thinks, that get’s rid of the fear every time!

    • Caleb you mention a heavy burden. Their are lots of “hidden pressures” that a preacher can experience, that no one is aware of. I know that over analyzing that negatively impacted my delivery. Thanks for bringing out the real “judge” for our standards!

      • On the other hand I also try not to listen very closely to all the good comments I get, especially right after I preach. Most people are just being polite and that’s fine, I appreciate it but I also don’t want it to go to my head so that I start thinking “Wow Caleb you really are a great preacher after all!” There’s always room for improvement.

        • Great point. It’s amazing that God can use people to preach His message despite all of our short-comings. Ego can definitely get in the way. You mention an area that always left a chronic unease in my heart, knowing full well that it’s God’s power not David’s power. Trying to find that balance of not too high, and not too low.

    • I can only imagine the fear that would come from preaching on a regular basis. But it’s great to hear that you have figured out a solid way to combat that fear and continue to improve.

  11. I don’t fear leadership, but i don’t really desire it in the traditional sense either. As your book points out, I’m an influencer. My influence is growing at work, at home, and online as a teacher, a writer and a musician. For me it’s a natural process and so there’s nothing to fear.

    As for MailChimp, I’m new and just starting a list with them, but I did read that they are going to be down for a few days to do some updates. Maybe that’s why you can’t get things out.

  12. I know from my own experience in most cases, those you lead want you to succeed and they believe you can do the job. So always start with that assumption. Transparency is huge. I am not a fan of “fake it until you make it” It is better to be upfront and honest for the best results in the long haul. To me the biggest thing as at some point you just need to dive in and go for it.

    • Really solid stuff Jon. I’ve also found from my limited coaching experience that everyone is rooting for me to succeed. It really wouldn’t make sense for them to wish for me to fail when we get super logical about it. I’m also totally in agreement that you really just have to dive in and go for it. There can only be so much preparation.

  13. I think transparency is good, but I also think that needs to be coupled with a confidence and a track record. Ideally, you can say “I’ve never done this before, but I’ve done all these things like it. We’ve got this.”

  14. Hey Kevin, as a guitar teacher I have to be a leader every single day. People are paying me money in the belief that under my guidance, they will become better musicians. I have to inspire confidence, not only in myself but into them. There are days when I feel like staying in bed but I have to put on that front during my lessons. I have to have the look of someone who knows what they are doing even when on the inside I am struggling.

    That to me is what being a leader is about. Standing up to be counted when all around there is chaos.

    • What a great attitude and mindset, Jamie! Putting on our game face and doing is so essential. It allows us to move in the direction we desire. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    • That’s an awesome way of looking at it man. Possibly the best description of a leader I’ve heard to date.
      I definitely feel that the most successful people in the world separate themselves from everyone else when they push through those tough moments and take action, even though they don’t feel like doing anything.

  15. Hey guys – sorry for the late comment but wanted to get my 2 cents in there :) Practice is key – the more we practice leadership, the better we get at it. As is transparency and seeking input from your team. I’ve noticed that everyone likes to be heard when making decisions even if their choice isn’t followed. Also by listening to others on the team, the leader gets to make a more informed and smarter choice.

    Finally, the one thing that worked me when I was put into a leadership position, was seeking advice from mentors who helped guide me along the way and respecting the people I was leading. No reason to be a jerk of a leader when treating people with respect helped motivate all of us to get more done.

    • Better late than never, Vishnu:) I totally agree with you about practice!!! That’s so important for anyone to do. Also seeking advice is a wise thing for anyone to do, no matter where they are at in their journey. Thank you for reading and writing an amazing comment!!!

    • Some really solid points Vishnu. Seeking input from your team is huge for sure. So many people just want to feel like they are contributing that it’s crucial to give them a voice. Not to mention how much value you can get from their input.

      Looking to mentors for guidance is something I am definitely doing at the moment. I don’t think there’s anything more powerful than getting advice from the people who have already done what you are trying to do.

  16. Hey Kevin, congratulations on making the jump into coaching. That’s a big step and anyone should be nervous when starting out. I think mental preparation is often overlooked so I’m glad you mentioned it. Our thoughts and attitude can be the biggest determiner of how successful we are in fearful situations. You have to get your head around that or else things get more difficult than they need to be.

    One thing I would add to your list is to find great examples of leaders to emulate. There are good leaders out there that we can learn from and study. I’ve always found that reading about them or talking to them can get me into the right mindset.

    • Kevin made a huge step and I know coaching is going to work out for him. Yes, mental preparation is so important, being mentally prepared allows us to best help humans that are emotionally hardwired.

      That’s a great addition! Thank you for reading and adding to the discussion.