Three Personal Fears to Conquer for Leadership Success

It’s time.  Yes, it’s finally time.  We’ve danced sophisticatedly around the topic for months now at Leadership Chat, and it’s simply time to face it head-on.  Many of us have personal fears and they affect our ability to succeed as leaders.

We know that as humans we have a fear of failure that rears its ugly head every now and then, but we’re going much deeper than that this week.

Oh yes, we’re talking about fears that settle into our cells and sometimes make their way deep down into our inner-being.  Fears that, if not brought up, acknowledged, and released through enlightened intention become the vapid foundation from which we lead and relate to other humans:

  • Fear of success
  • Fear of unworthiness
  • Fear of lack

Obviously, these often deep-rooted fears will have drastic implications on the canvas of our life.  They’ll affect the paths we paint and the vibrancy of the colors we enable ourselves to experience along those paths.

Although we can’t grapple sufficiently with the whole of our lives in one post or one LeadershipChat, we’ll start with their impact on our ability to lead…

Just for starters, Fear of Success – in our business life – looks a little like this with our own shades of gray applied:

  • If I’m successful they’ll expect even more from me as a leader
  • If I’m successful then they’ll give me more responsibility/a larger team, and I’ll have no idea how to lead in that new situation
  • If I’m successful then I’ll become accountable to more people, which will add a whole new layer of stress
  • If I’m successful I’ll have to be more visible in the organization and industry – and maybe I’ll have to speak more/present at important conferences/talk to more analysts and cable business shows – and this is a lot of pressure

Ultimately, fear of success feeds the fear of failure, but on a much deeper level…

Fear of Unworthiness as a leader may express itself this way:

  • They’ll discover I don’t deserve these accolades and this position; they’ll realize I was just lucky in my career to get to this point
  • I’m afraid I’ll disappoint my team/the company and they’ll realize I wasn’t worthy of the position
  • Who am I to lead this team of brilliant, more experienced, <fill in the blank>  people?  What do I have to offer them?
  • I haven’t sacrificed enough to get here like others did…
  • What if I am wholly laughed at?
  • And the ultimate: I’m not worthy of love so how can I be worthy to lead others? (You can’t stop this belief from bleeding into your work, you simply can’t – you can only mask it)

And Fear of Lack down deep in a leader may say…

  • If I make the wrong decision I might lose my job and not be able to care for my family
  • I can’t give up this position that doesn’t fulfill me, working for this unethical/inept Board, because I won’t be able to find a comparable opportunity and my standard of living will suffer
  • I can’t follow my passion because it won’t provide a title that is acceptable in my community/circle of friends – or even to my family…
  • If I lose my job all those people who admired and followed me will think less of me
  • I must demand respect because I can’t bear for my peers to see me without it

* An interesting note about lack: when you find yourself saying you “need” something, it generally points you toward where your fear of lack lies…and then you have to peel back a few layers to figure out where that need and fear of lack is coming from…

Again, these three fears – with often strong and deep root systems – have implications in our lives much further reaching than to our careers.

So what’s the impact of leading from this fear?

  • The REAL and genuinely powerful you isn’t present – it’s hidden behind large walls and masked by the fear
  • Thus, your personal power is drastically minimized
  • It blocks creativity
  • It blocks clarity, vibrancy and brilliant color from your life and from emanating from you – it’s like dimming your own lights
  • It feels heavy, wrenching and sometimes painful and manifests itself physically
  • You know when you hear people say, “I smell fear?” That’s the type of energy you are sending out…an energy of need and fear that attracts to it more need and fear. It’s the natural law of attraction.

So here’s my thesis for Tuesday night’s LeadershipChat discussion and for a spirited debate in the comments:

I believe that in order to successfully bring these fears up from our deeper selves to the surface, to face them head on and to release them through enlightened self-awareness is not something we can do with the analytical, male part of our inner selves.

I believe to successfully let these fears go so that we may live our lives from abundance and not from fear we must embrace our intimate  feminine side.  We must tap into our emotions, our intuition, our personal vision (remember the power of Isis?) and our powerful creative force in order to create ourselves anew, free of these fears.

Do you agree?

And what are some other personal fears that you believe must be conquered to truly be successful as a leader?

Please share in the comments…

And please join Steve Woodruff and me, along with the brilliant Leadership Chat Community on Tuesday evening, March 1st at 8:00 pm Eastern Time as we discuss how personal fears affect our ability to lead. We’ll share insights and experiences – I promise you won’t want to miss it! Everyone is welcome and there’s no need to be shy!

You can find me on Twitter at @LisaPetrilli and on LinkedIn at I look forward to seeing you there!

To hire me, eMail me at [email protected].

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Photo is Conquer Your Fear by Leland.


  1. Lisa this post resonates with me but at the same time I wonder where a solution lies for my circumstances. In my previous career and my current one I have had to deal with owners who saw my success and achievements as just common place. I had 4 time the responsibilities but achieved in many instances 100-200 percent more than my other teammates. It can be very frustrating when this stops looking magnificent and becomes just another day in the office. What makes it worse it when private meetings have topics such as “why haven’t you closed this yet?” I guess that is my fear overall is trying to face those issues straight in the eye and just clearly say, “Look at the stats and the size of your company compared to a year ago or 5 years ago” Something I need to work on for sure but your insight as always will help me achieve higher today. Thanks my friend.
    Jonathan Saar´s last blog post ..The Social Media Handshake-Establishing Trust

    • Jonathan,

      When I read this I don’t sense fear – I sense disrespect that you’ve come to disdain and wish to circumvent. I think they’re very different things.

      As I read this it *feels* like you understand your worth, you are comfortable with your real success, and your results are certainly not “in lack.” And yet, the response you are getting from leadership doesn’t align with this. Obviously, this is unfortunate.

      So, what I would go back to is (surprise) vision – aligned with strategies and objectives. I would meet with the leadership and get very clear on what their vision for you and your role is – and make sure that their vision is aligned with yours. Where do you see your role taking the company and how will you get there? Make sure all of you are aligned and have the same vision to start with. Then make sure strategies and objectives align with the vision – and that you all agree with them.

      If you go into future meetings with results that prove you are meeting objectives and moving forward down the path to the vision that you all agreed to, then they have no justification for the type of responses that have become their pattern. But, if they still respond that way, well, then at least you know the truth about their leadership…and you will have to make a choice (hopefully that better supports your worth and value!)

      All my best, Jonathan. :)

  2. Thanks Lisa. My new career is certainly a leap forward from where I was. I am certainly going to take your advice to heart. It was just a few years ago that I would take the pressure and the pain for the sake of my team which I will never regret, now it’s a strong learning curve to show to people somehow on paper what makes me tick. You know how it is in math class when you can create a solution but the teacher wants you to document how you got there? That is sometimes how I feel. I guess the real fear then is quantifying that process in a much more clearer format. Thanks for your encouragement. May your day be full of fulfilling visions! :)
    Jonathan Saar´s last blog post ..The Social Media Handshake-Establishing Trust

  3. Don’t take life too seriously. Don’t compare yourself with your peer. Don’t take either success or failure too personally. If you genuinely lack something, improve on it. You are what you are. You are your own judge. (I like Lady Gaga’s song – “Born this way”). Do this and all your fear will vanish! And surprisingly, you will see you’re on your way to success.


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