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The top 3 fears faced by executives and how to overcome them

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Stephen Brown

The top 3 fears faced by executives and how to overcome them:

Do you suffer from an executive fear and if so, how do you overcome it?

As search consultants, we meet a lot of executives, senior managers and business leaders; behind every title is a person and with great responsibility there is often one of these top 3 fears:

  • Overwhelm & Exhaustion
  • Imposter Syndrome or a Hero Complex
  • Loneliness at the top

Overwhelm & Exhaustion:

Most executives share the trait of being conscientious; it is likely that your diligence is what got you to where you are today. This can however become something of curse if not addressed.

Here are our top tips in dealing with overwhelm, which leads to exhaustion:

  • Recognise that work is infinite and time is finite. When you feel anxious due to overwhelm, step away from your desk and list everything out.
  • Then prioritise your list by assigning items with a name or a number corresponding to its importance. For example you may wish to use the Fibonacci number sequence, where each number in the sequence is the sum of the two previous numbers, this numbering method allows you to see the distinction between list items. Alternatively, you can use animals to describe the size of the problem; with low importance items described as an ant and more important items as a bear. (You can have some fun with this method, which may help alleviate some of your anxieties too).
  • Be sure to assign the magnitude of your score on importance and not item size. Some things on your list will be small but really important. If you want to know why you can’t ignore the little things, try walking up a mountain with a stone in your boot!
  • Learn to delegate effectively, true leaders give the right work to the right people, providing specific instructions. Ask the person doing the work to confirm what needs to be done and to promise when it will be done by.
  • It is essential you break the spell of “doing it myself because it’ll be quicker than explaining it”.
  • Focus on your important items, turn off your phone, emails or go and work somewhere you can’t be bothered or distracted.
  • Get an assistant; if you haven’t got an assistant then you are an assistant! This may be someone you recruit for the job, or someone you can enlist who wants to learn from you, possibly an intern or trainee.

Imposter Syndrome:

Best described as self-doubt, imposter syndrome is most common amongst the self-aware; ironically, another trait of good leaders. However imposter syndrome also comes with additional challenges such as feelings of inadequacy and feeling like a fraud.

It is extremely prevalent amongst members of generational family businesses, who continuously ask themselves if they are only in such a position because of their name and not their ability, or in particularly successful people, who ascend to heights beyond their background and upbringing.

Dealing with Imposter Syndrome will depend upon its severity, our tips are:

  • Recognise everyone experiences self-doubt at some time (75% of people are thought to suffer or have suffered from imposter syndrome), and the more you challenge yourself, the more uncomfortable you will feel. Embrace the discomfort as a symptom of your growth and not inadequacy.
  • Create a success platform: It’s too easy to focus on negatives and ignore positives. Keep a file of your wins and review them on a regular basis. Create a success wall for your whole business to celebrate everyone’s success and lift everyone’s spirits and confidence.
  • List out your KPI’s or leading indicators, knowing these means you know where to focus.
  • Build confidence routines. Confidence tends to be built around binary goals with a pass or fail. Consider replacing this with a routine based on doing the things that lead to the outcomes you want. You can download our sample confidence routine here:
  • Be prepared to be vulnerable. Replace feeling like you need to have all the answers with questions, use ‘5 Whys’ to reach the root of a problem.
  • Be prepared to admit you don’t have all the answers and ask your team what they would do in your situation.
  • Replace ‘self’ with ‘team’: Appreciate that you stand on the shoulders of giants, constantly recognise and praise your team; this will take the emphasis away from how you feel about yourself.
  • Become an encourager of others, it will prevent them feeling inadequate and reinforces your leadership.
  • Regularly meet with other executives to share ideas and mutual support.

Loneliness at the top

Having to be impartial for the good of the business, being seen as powerful and therefore inaccessible, receiving filtered messages from colleagues, friends who only see the trappings of your success and not the responsibility which goes with it and being unable to regularly offload to your partner for fear of ruining the sanctuary of your relationship and home life, all add up to the truth that it can feel lonely at the top.

Here are our top tips to combat this very real executive fear:

  • Create a management team you can share success with, replacing ‘me’ with ‘we’.
  • Build trust in your business, where candid and respectful challenge is the driver of success.
  • Join a peer group of other business owners and realise that you share the same issues, fears and frustrations as others in your position.
  • Get networking and build your own ‘advisory board’ of people who sit outside your organisation and with whom you can trust to share what’s on your mind and discuss ideas with.
  • If group discussions aren’t your thing, hire an executive coach to be your sounding board.

EP Executive Mastermind Club:

It is said you become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with, this is supported by research which suggests your income will be this average too.

We recognise the value of bringing together like minded Engineering & Manufacturing business leaders from non-competing companies, who wish to participate in a confidential, peer to peer advisory group.

We have therefore created the EP Executive Mastermind Club, which meets for a morning, bi-monthly in the Midlands.

To register your interest for our next group meeting, please contact or call 01530 833825