Me? I didn’t want to be a great leader. I wanted to be a wrestler. Not the Olympic kind, but like “Macho Man” Randy Savage. At the same time, I remember telling my parents that I also wanted to work at McDonald’s. To me, there was nothing better than being a professional wrestler who also worked at McDonald’s. You could be on TV one second and eating Happy Meals the next.
When you’re allowed to dream and be whatever you want to be, you’re unfamiliar with fear. It doesn’t have a hold on you; it doesn’t influence how you think. But as you grow up and are torn from your childhood beliefs, fear takes on a bigger meaning—both in small, subtle ways and in big, stunting moments. Fear can be both humbling and painful, spectacular and binding, to those who cannot control it.
This is nothing to be embarrassed about. We’re all fearful in some way. It’s how we cope and control this fear that molds some into leaders and some into followers. For me, there is no option. I wish to take the road to leadership.
We’re trained in school to listen to and learn from others, then are encouraged to form our own beliefs. These views are often rooted partially in fact, while the rest comes from the gut.
I’m a firm believer that belief in one’s self can be the most powerful professional tool you wield. At the same time, if you trust only your own ideas, you stop listening to others and fall deeper into a state of egotism.
Saul Alinksy, generally considered the founder of modern community organizing, is quoted as famously saying:
“We must first see the world as it is and not as we would like it to be.”
In his book Rules for Radicals, Alinksy writes:
“Egotism is mainly a defensive reaction of feelings of personal inadequacy.”
In the pursuit of leadership, it’s common to get tripped up by ego. After spending years insulating ourselves from fear—fear of not being the best at whatever we do—we’re programmed to default to what we know. Any attempt at disproving our beliefs is viewed as a direct attack to our ego.
In management, a team member’s accidental misstep can feel like a left hook to your stomach. And for those who aspire to become better leaders but who are also governed by fear, the natural reaction is to take greater control of the work at hand by cutting out those who “just don’t get it.”
The Einstellung Effect describes this better:
A mechanized state of mind, often called a problem-solving set, that refers to a person’s predisposition to solve a given problem in a specific manner even though “better” or more appropriate methods of solving the problem exist.
Essentially, we go back to what feels right when faced with fear, literally blinding us from seeing alternative solutions to wider problems.
Over the course of writing this article, I’ve read a lot about fear. One of my favorite quotes comes from Cus D’Amato, Mike Tyson’s former trainer. D’Amato says:
“Fear is the greatest obstacle to learning. But fear is your best friend. Fear is like fire. If you learn to control it, you let it work for you. If you don’t learn to control it, it’ll destroy you and everything around you.”
Fear is the product of your ego. To be a better leader, you must combat your ego every day.
I talked to a few people whom I admire and respect about leadership, asking, “What makes a great leader?” Their answers:
Pretty solid advice from folks restricted to 140 characters or less, no? Their advice led to these five themes, which show what every leader must embody and showcase in his or her management style and work:
You can still be whatever you want to be, but to reach your goals, you have to learn to lead, not follow. These tips will help you work better with others while simultaneously helping you overcome the most crippling obstacle between you and success: Fear.
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