Why leadership is scary, and doing it anyway

Do you want to make things happen? To lead change to a vision of a better world you can clearly picture in your mind?

Many of us see what’s not working in the world and get frustrated at how things keep not changing. Bureaucracy, Climate Change, Inequality, Fossil Fuels, media polarisation tearing our society apart, plastic straws, tights that break are a few of the things that have frustrated me for a long time…

There is no shortage of big or small problems to tackle. If I asked you what is frustrating you, I’m sure you’d have a few ideas of your own, right?

The good news is that the world is now rewarding those who stand up and take action to create innovation and make all of this change. 

So why doesn’t everyone do it?

A few reasons. 

One of the big problems with leadership is that it comes with followers. And thinking about the consequences can get our imagination and our fear running free.

Picture this. One day, you share your vision, and the followers start coming, they will have their very own understanding of your vision and loosely translate it into their own actions that you don’t endorse. And  the more followers come along to collaborate, the more you’ll realize that this is not what you signed up for. A thousand headed monster nightmare is ruining your vision.

I have to admit it. Sometimes my own fearful control monster runs rampant when I think of leading or contributing to anything. 

But the real fear is not that those who jump on board will deface our idea of change.

What we are really afraid of isn’t failure. It’s blame. Criticism. 

“This will never work and it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” “This is going to lose us money.” “Who’s responsible for this?”.

Or it could be more subtle. Something like “You launched this without reaching out to the experts in the field or doing research up front? Huh…”. This analysis-paralysis stops people from ever shipping anything. “That won’t get me criticized”, they think.

If you’ve seen a few people get criticized for being innovative, you’re probably convinced that this could happen to you too if you’re not careful.

That’s why it took a hundred years to come back to the electric car, why we don’t have more people building on what the hippy movement started and could give birth to, or entrepreneurs experimenting audaciously with open source. That’s because the majority takes what’s already been on the menu, and will resist the change. 

But those who take the leap, they change everything. And they can change things pretty quickly with those who’ve been waiting for someone to lead the way. 

Here’s a legendary example:

So how can you think yourself out of this fear?

How are those embracing leadership doing to keep going? How do they become fearless?

1/ When launching something new, they ask for constructive criticism. If a critic tells you: “I don’t like it” or “the logo is too small”, or “you should use this technology instead of this one”, this might be true, but it is useless to help you do better next time. Instead of accepting these critics, ask for honest, specific feedback to point out what isn’t working and why, and how it relates to the project’s goals and not to the tastes of the person.

2/ They tell themselves a better story. Even if the fear is still there, they tell themselves stories about what the world, their industry or their projects needs to improve and what matters for them.

There is no easy tactic or trick to do this hard thing you keep postponing. And this article is not going to solve the fear that’s eating at you. But you can use it to start to ask for better feedback and create this new more meaningful story right now. 

Why does your change matter? Imagine you spoke up about the can the change you believe in and reached out to others who want the same change. What new possibilities would this open?

The only thing holding you back from this change is your own fear. Now you have the power to challenge it. You’ll get to be more engaged, passionate, and happier about what you do. And you’ll find the power to make change happen. 

The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go share it with others who believe in what you believe. People will follow.

Thank you for reading this far. I’d love to hear from you and from what you might be wondering on how to lead communities that make change happen. To ask a question just write in the comments below or hit me up in the contact section. Every week I’ll pick one or two questions and will do my best to answer them.

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Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Jaime Arredondo
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  1. Great post, thank you for sharing Jaime!

    On making the 2 recommendations as actionable as possible – I would recommend:

    1) ” When launching something new, they ask for constructive criticism” – a good way to frame the question for anyone to answer positively has been for me to ask

    “What can we do to make this even better?” and run a 3 minutes brainwriting whenever possible. The “make this even better” reframe the question as a necessary improvement, and avoid blockages

    2) “They tell themselves a better story”
    One of the best techniques I’ve heard, and that I have been practicing myself, whenever I launch a project that “counts” for me – is to write a case study of the project, like if we were already 2 years down the line – when it’s released, successful – and you are basically applying for a competition to recognise your great effort. This technique was shared with me by the executive creative director of McCann worldwide who use it regularly with their 10.000 creatives – and lead to the advertisement fearless girl for instance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QURUlgH544c

    There is a step-by-step technique of case study that I teach and share, but it’s a little short here to describe it. For me, whenever I’m in doubt, lost and about to give up by fear, reading back the case study helps me massively to push forward.

    1. Author

      Thanks Charlelie, have been missing our exchanges 🙂

      Love the question coupled with brainwriting.

      And love the Fearless girl campaign and the case study technique. I’m will try it whenever I try a new project on and share it with others.

      Thanks again Charlelie!

    1. Author

      Gracias Ferran, me alegro que te haya servido 🙂

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