On 6 May 2006 I began a new senior leadership role that, as it turned out, would test me to the core. Ten years later I would leave that position having gained an enviable reputation, a great deal of status and learned the hardest of lessons about what happens when you let fear run the operating system of your life!
In the autumn of 2006, I attended a month long course for new senior leaders based at Windsor Castle. The course was the brainchild of the Duke of Edinburgh and brought attendees into contact with experts in leadership from across the world. One of the opening topics was about handling fear. I remember a very experienced individual from the corporate world talking about the need for self-awareness in leaders and the importance of our relationship with the primal fears that we all carry. I also remember thinking that, although this certainly rang bells for me, being new in post, I couldn’t immediately see how I might take action.
Scroll forward nearly a decade and I had achieved a series of promotions and high levels of recognition. I’d effected some extremely important and what one might call ‘legacy’ changes, but fear wouldn’t go away. A recurrent dream of facing a public audience naked should have been a big clue that I needed to do some work on myself.
As personal life suffered and I made some stupid decisions, the wheels finally came off. However, as I left a role I’d fought for and been proud to achieve, so my journey with understanding the impact of fear on leadership really began.
There are countless academic studies, but also accessible writing from the likes of the late Stephen Covey and the fabulous Brene Brown that all point to the absolute necessity of conquering fear if you are going to lead with integrity and authenticity and in a way that fosters a culture of trust, accountability and delivery.
As I began to really understand my own fear responses, so I was also sought out by others trying to understand theirs. As a result I’ve used the insights of my experience to help others and had the unique privilege of seeing leaders go from bad tempered dictators, caught in the headlights of a work-life juggernaut to flourishing and happy professional and domestic role-models.
Your fear needn’t destroy your dreams as long as you can face it, see it for what it is and change the way you react; that is what makes for awesome leadership.