To Become a Better Leader, You Need to Face Your Fears

This article was originally published on Women2.0.

As your startup grows and you face new challenges, one of the easiest traps to fall into is to hide from the things you are uncomfortable with. But getting to know your weaknesses and facing your fears head-on will make you a better leader.

Most of us hide from certain aspects of our work without realizing it. I know that when I have a lot to do, it’s easier to take things on that I have no particular emotional reaction to. Even if the work is difficult, there’s no added burden of having to fight through emotional baggage. But when it’s time to face those challenges that are loaded with kryptonite, I’m really good at rationalizing my avoidance of them.

It’s one thing if we’re talking about procrastinating on tasks. But when we’re talking about avoidance in our attitudes, behaviors, and approaches to how we’re running our company, the impact can be far-reaching. As the leader, your behavior affects team morale, company culture and your business’ success.

If any of the following examples sounds familiar, it’s time to face your fears.

  • “I am conflict averse”. So you are being held hostage by prima donnas and your underperformers are coasting. This isn’t bad just for productivity, but it’s toxic and demoralizing for the rest of the team.

  • “I’m an engineer by training, not a CEO”. Your technical background makes you feel more helpful when you’re solving development problems. So you hide in the details where it’s more comfortable.

  • “I feel like an impostor”. After all, how could you be the president and CEO? So you don’t provide leadership or direction and your company strays.

  •  “I hate networking and I dread doing pitches”. So you put off building your connections and having the meetings you need to have.

  •  “I’m uncomfortable with being the leader”. You have authority issues or are afraid of being “uncool”, so you don’t set priorities, make decisions, or hold people accountable.

  • “I’m insecure about [fill in the blank!]”. So you avoid dealing with issues and situations that bring this to the forefront.


Until you take responsibility for yourself in all these areas, you’re not going to be as effective as you want to be. So where do you start?

  • Define the role. What do you believe a company leader should be? What is your responsibility to the company and your people? When you imagine a leader, what do you see?

  • Go through the role and evaluate yourself. Be honest about your limitations. You can usually tell if you’re uncomfortable about something because of how you physically feel when you imagine it. Write down each pain point and identify examples where you were hiding. If you have partners or colleagues who can give you honest feedback, take it.

  • Prioritize your weaknesses and address them one by one. Choose the most important issue and work out a plan to improve. This might involve leadership training, finding a mentor, joining a support group, working with a coach, or seeking therapy for deep-seated emotional issues. You don’t need to do this alone!

Working through our fears is an ongoing process. Conquering each one is a cause for celebration, and will give you confidence to take on the next one. Above all, believe that this uncomfortable process is really one of the best things you can do for yourself and your company!

© 2014 Jennine Heller and J Heller Coaching. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jennine Heller and J Heller Coaching with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo: "Frozen above Crater Lake" by Powderruns is licensed under CC by 2.0 / cropped and color filtered from original.