Becoming a Fearless Leader:

Learn from my mistakes!

As I look back on my career, I have so much pride. Pride in the advancement and success of the people I worked with, and the innovation and profitability of the businesses that I ran. I was a good leader, and I felt comfortable expressing my point of view most of the time. Notice that I wrote “most of the time.” The mistakes that I made were often buried in discomfort due to my not being fearless. As I reflect on the legacy of my career, I regret that I sometimes did not stand up for and speak out in support of what I felt was the right course of action at the time. Or, if I did, my boss ignored my comments, and I did not take it up the chain of command. 

Why was I not more fearless? If I had it to do over again, what would I do differently?

What’s required of a fearless leader?

First and foremost, fearless leadership requires confidence. You have to believe in yourself and your ideas, particularly when your thinking is not mainstream. Creative, innovative, and even “crazy” ideas are often required to create change but seldom put forth. Secondly, to be a fearless leader, you need to be a strong communicator. When you have big ideas, you must express a course of action articulately to move a project or your business forward in a way that provides clarity and engages people. Without these two traits, being fearless is almost impossible. 

A huge part of what makes a fearless leader is the influence of a few remarkable bosses during their careers. Having a supportive boss, someone willing to meet with you, hear your ideas, discuss, debate, and help shape your thinking, is priceless. This relationship encourages you to aim high, think big, and take risks. Bear in mind, not every boss fits this model. I’ve had lots of great bosses, as well as, an unsupportive boss or two over the years. Sometimes, they just want to delegate and move on. They aren’t interested in hearing your breakthrough thinking or developing your leadership skills. Having been in that situation, I know the adverse effects that working with an unsupportive boss has on the employee and the company.  If you read my blogs, you know my advice if you have this type of supervisor. It is time to dust off the resume and move on. As I reflect, I realize I should have done that much sooner in situations where I did not have a supportive relationship with my boss.

Another essential feature of an environment that develops your leadership skills is a corporate culture that encourages people to challenge the status quo. Companies benefit from employees who are willing to speak up and challenge assumptions and offer alternatives. Fearless leadership requires encouraging teams to move away from groupthink and “doing things the same old way.” Talk with your boss and your HR liaison. Fully understand your corporate culture – the written rules and those that are unsaid but well known. Where does your company stand, and how can you help it evolve?

The world is changing rapidly. The way we conduct business, lead our teams, and do our jobs needs to evolve. Companies need employees who are thinking differently and leading fearlessly. Are you one of them? If not, what would it take for you to become fearless?

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Kim Martin