When Doubt Impedes Your Ability to Lead

Here’s a little secret your leader might not want to admit: He deals with doubt. No matter how confident he might seem on the outside, even the most self-assured leaders wrestle with doubt on the inside from time to time. Doubt is a natural characteristic in leadership – and that’s okay. I’d be cautious of any leader who had 100 percent faith in herself and her own abilities.

However, some leaders are plagued by doubt. They are paralyzed by fears and questions of, “What if?” They struggle in making decisions and giving direction. Doubtful leaders slow momentum and discourage their teams.

Do you allow your doubts to overcome you? Here are the most common reasons leaders wrestle with doubt:

  • Bad past experience. Either you made a really a bad call that led to really bad results or worked for/observed another leader who made bad calls with bad results.
  • Fear of the unknown. It can seem easier to deal with the challenges that you know and are used to rather than risking dealing with something worse.
  • Fear of making a mistake. Sometimes this is because the leader strives for perfection and mistakes are viewed as failures. Other times this is because stakes are very high and a mistake really would cause irreparable results.
  • Not having all of the information. Not every decision allows for you to find out all the answers or gather all the information you’d like.

 Do you deal with and work around your doubts, or do they affect your ability to effectively lead? Here are some tips for moving forward, even in the midst of doubts:

  • Determine what your leader would do. Do they typically make wise decisions? Learn the “why” behind your leader’s decisions so you can learn their perspective, not just their answer.
  • Think though the impact of your decision. This varies widely from leader to leader. For example, the threshold of error for a brain surgeon is MUCH lower than the threshold of error for a marketing manager!
  • Seek wisdom. If time allows, talk to other leaders you trust.  If you’re a person of faith, pray for guidance. I recently read a blog post that closed with the statement, “The one leading us through the wilderness is the same one who parted the seas.” God isn’t going to lead you through a challenge only to abandon you in the midst of it.
  • Make a decision. Inaction often has worse long-term ramifications than making a decision.

Don’t let fear and doubt be the driving force in your decisions. For more resources on overcoming doubt (and helping your teammates do the same), here are a few helpful posts:


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