Business February 27, 2015

What are Business Leaders Afraid of?


CEOs are not unflappable human robots, at Vistage we understand that more than most. With over 18,000 business leaders world-wide coming together to work on their businesses we appreciate the intricacies and pressures that come with being at the top of your organisation and how delicate a situation that can be.

If you are feeling the pressures on your day to day, it’s not hard to feel alone and without an outlet. The truth is that so many others are feeling the same pressure, the burning heat of the spotlight that shines on you every day. Many executives let this pressure build and these uncontrolled private fears can spur defensive behaviours that undermine how they and their employees set and execute company strategy.

At Vistage we bring together CEOs and MDs of business into peer to peer advisory groups, because we know that being able to challenge and discuss your fears and business issues openly with 14 other CEOs and business leaders brings forth remarkable results.

In a recent study of 116 CEOs and other executives, Vantage Partners discovered a list of the most common fears that senior leadership positions have, with over 60% claiming that these fears have had a noticeable effect on their executive teams' productivity. Can you relate to any of the below?

  1.  Imposter Syndrome

    The biggest fear is being found to be incompetent, also known as the imposter syndrome; this fear diminishes your confidence in your abilities and undermines your relationships.

    This is a psychological phenomenon where a person feels like an impostor or fraud because they are unable to see their own accomplishments, dismissing them as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

    This can be incredibly debilitating especially when it comes to reviewing your own competencies as a leader, and it is most commonly found in women.

  2. Underachieving

    The second biggest fear is underachieving, both personally and in terms of business success. If you are putting yourself under a consistently high level of pressure, it is likely that your fear of failure is great. This undoubtedly weakens every aspect of your capabilities as a leader resulting in bad decision making, or taking unnecessary risks (desperation).

  3.  Appearing too Vulnerable

    A fear of showing weakness usually comes as a direct result of personal feelings of insecurity within your organisation.

    These are direct quotes from some of the participants in the Vantage Partner study and highlight some of the most poignant issues that arise as a result of a fear of vulnerability. “You’ve got to look virile”; “We are competitive so there is less honesty".

    Fear of vulnerability encourages a negative culture of mistrust and avoidance. According to Vantage Partners two-thirds of participants said that their company’s executives were unable to talk directly to one another and even lied at times. “If someone told the truth they would be isolated.”

    Every great leader has vulnerability, it is what makes us human and it is what makes us great.

    The greatest leaders have the self-awareness to recognise this fact. They also recognize that showing their vulnerability is a sign of their courage as well as their strength.

Fear is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to poison an organisation, here are three suggested actions that CEOs can take to become more effective at reducing their fears:

  1. Become more aware of your fears and your weaknesses, as well as those of your wider team.
  2. Recognise emotional intelligence as a key leadership attribute, something that all leaders should cherish and aspire to grow within themselves as well as their employees.
  3. CEOs should actively encourage all team members to speak openly and honestly without fear of consequences. Positive confrontation encourages honesty, accountability, debate and results in stronger decision making.
  4. Join a Vistage Peer Advisory Group and speak with other leaders that can understand your issues and will give you new insights and advice to solve them in a completely unique and rewarding environment.

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