Maybe it’s the spooky Halloween season, but I keep thinking of how self-doubt hovers over new leaders. You might feel like you don’t have the right amount of charisma to command the attention of a team. Perhaps you've had leaders you admired and want to emulate, but believe it will take YEARS to get there, if it ever even happens. You might feel like you’re not decisive enough, strategic enough, creative enough… ENOUGH!
Let me tell you, self-doubt takes over if you let it and becomes paranormal. Beware!! Rest assured, self-doubt is completely normal among new leaders. In fact, it pops up for lots of people in senior positions with loads of experience, usually at the most inopportune times. Those feelings can be managed with a few simple tips. Here’s how:
Recognize Where The Self-Doubt Is Coming From
There is a lot to be gained by doing a mental inventory of what you are afraid of. Otherwise, your behaviour may be driven by avoiding a fear-based outcome. Some leaders fear letting people down.
Whether it’s an employer or mentor who believed in them, or staff who are comparing them with a predecessor, leaders who care about relationships get dragged down by perceived expectations and criticism. If that sounds like you, please know you’re not alone.
Other leaders who are more task and outcome-oriented suffer from fear of making mistakes and not having all the answers. This perfectionism leads to overanalysing data, trying to find guaranteed
outcomes, and slow decision-making. Behaviours like that are compounded when expectations
of results are high, which is pretty much always!
In either case, given their minimal experience in leadership roles, in the team or in the industry, the self-doubt cloak can land heavy on new leaders’ shoulders.
Shine a light on “the scaries” with a bit of planning and a lot of communication. Let’s assume you have recently taken on a leadership position where one or more of these ‘heavy’ burdens are present. How can you set yourself up for success?
1. Take Ownership
Whether your company provides you withan onboarding plan or not (usually not), you can come up with your own shortlist of important people to connect with, important roles to understand and important expectations that need to be set, both for you and by you.
In a perfect world, you and your senior leader would be completely aligned on all decisions. Together, you would anticipate all problems and pitfalls, agree how to respond if the worst case happens and then, you’d hear them say out loud, "I have your back, no matter what."
In reality, you will need to take charge to create these conditions. It’s important to do so. Ask lots of “what if” questions up front and then ask about the most common blunders or mistakes new leaders
make. Blunders can happen around processes, decision-making, team structure and relationships, so cover all the areas. Best to learn from history, wherever possible.
2. Seek Out Support And Feedback
Your team wants to be part of the solutions and decision-making, so involve them as much as possible. They have valuable perspectives. When you ask them, they’ll appreciate your humility. See? It can be good to admit you don’t have all the answers.
Ask for regular feedback on the one or two areas most important to your skills growth right now. This will help focus your development as a leader. On everything else, don’t ask yet. You’ll get overwhelmed and add fuel to self-doubt.
Don’t be afraid to seek outside support too. Leadership can be a hard climb and doing it alone only makes it harder. Better to leverage experience from someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in the outcome of your efforts. Ask a senior leader you respect if they are willing to be your mentor. If no one like that is available to you, hire a coach. The best leaders report having the support of a coach who will point out blindspots, share resources and create accountability to achieving their
full potential. That might sound like a fluff cloud floating over your dark shroud of self-doubt, but I have seen many ‘coachees’ accomplish their goals far faster with support than without.
3. Express Gratitude
Start a regular practice of reflecting on the day or week, jotting down notes about what worked well and what you’d like to handle differently next time. Name any fears that came up, rather than avoiding them. You’ll notice incredible trends and identify further opportunities for improvement, both for you and for your team. (Okay, you caught me; it’s called journaling.) Write down at least one thing and person you are grateful for too. This puts your fears in perspective.
Next, find ways to show thanks to your team members for what they do. Whether it is verbally or in writing, making them feel appreciated for their efforts will go a long way to motivating them and creating an engaged team dynamic. Team members will also be more forgiving when you make a mistake.
This quote from Dr. Brené Brown seems fitting:
People think it’s a long walk from ‘I’m not enough’ to ‘I’m better than them’ but it’s actually about standing still. In the exact same place. In fear. Assembling the armour. – Dr. Brené Brown
Sorry, but… There is no perfect leader. Sounds obvious, because it is. That self-doubt might show up often, but don’t let it weigh heavy on you for long. Face it. These three strategies are ones grounded in simplicity for a reason. Keep coming back to them.
Remember: You are the perfect leader for your team, because you are you. So, take a deep breath, remove that scary self-doubt cloak and lead!