The air is screaming by outside at 120 miles an hour, the ground is receding in the distance, and the weight of your parachute and equipment seems to be pulling you down. Your heart rate is up, there’s a little tremor in your hands. The risks seem real, but everyone in the airplane is watching to see what you will do when the green jump light comes on. They expect you to make a good jump.
Stepping into a leadership position is a little like getting ready to jump out of an airplane with a parachute – the excitement, the apprehension, the sense of risk, everybody watching. Today we’ll talk about how you can control the fear, and seven ways you can boost your confidence to lead your team successfully.
Stand in the Door!
Back in my paratrooper days, going through the exercises and safety briefings, getting into the parachute harness, and boarding the plane was always just part of the routine. We were all comfortable with it. But once up in the air, when the crew chief slid open the door, everything seemed to change. The howling air, the roaring engines, the smell of the exhaust, the sense of risk. The 100 lbs of gear seemed to get heavier, it seemed harder to move, harder to breathe.
Jumping with a parachute out of an airplane is not a natural act. It always produces a muted sense of anxiety to anybody who is paying attention. It doesn’t matter how many times you stand in the door preparing to jump, the apprehension is always there. That’s a natural and good thing – you want everything to go right.
Taking on a leadership position can be very similar, especially for someone who hasn’t done very much of it. It can be a little scary to step up and be in charge of a group of people. It can make you nervous, apprehensive – you want everything to go right.
The problem comes when leaders give in to these fears and lead timidly.
What the Leader is Feeling
Timid leaders may be experiencing any of several feelings. See if any of these sound familiar to you:
Not wanting to be “That” guy that does it all wrong.
Not wanting to offend anyone, stepping on toes.
Not feeling adequate.
Not feeling confident.
Now that it’s our turn to lead, we don’t want to make the mistakes others have made. But fear of getting it wrong can immobilize us into being indecisive.
Focusing on the negative things, the things to avoid, makes it worse. It’s better to focus on the positive, what the group needs from their leader.
What the Group Needs
What the group needs are things like focus, organization, clear decisions and direction, opportunities for input, a sense of mutual respect, momentum. It is hard to provide that if you are focused on trying not to do those other things.
Alexander the Great once said this:
“I’m not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep, I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.”
You need to be more lion and less sheep to be effective.
What You Should Do
Realize what the group needs (whether they admit it or not)
Recognize that as the leader, they expect you to provide it.
Understand that it may feel a little uncomfortable, but be OK with that (like jumping with the parachute…).
Proceed with confidence.
Here are seven ways you can calm the nerves and act confidently.
Take slow deep breaths through your nose; this will help you slow the pace, lessen tension and provide a helpful burst of oxygen to your brain.
Assume confident body postures; stand with your feet shoulder width apart, maybe put your hands on your hips, use them to gesture.
Take up space with your body; when you make confident moves physically, it helps build your confidence mentally.
Focus your thoughts on what the group needs and how you can help them get it.
Remember that they want someone to coordinate the actions of the group; that’s the role you play now.
Voice pitch and speed tends to rise under pressure, so try to keep it down. Lowering your voice and speaking deliberately transmits confidence.
Sound more confident by keeping your tone down. If let your pitch rise at the end of a statement, it sounds like you are asking a question, communicating uncertainty and inviting debate.
Make direct eye contact with people and hold it for a moment.
When speaking to the group, focus on one person directly for a moment; look right at them. Next sentence or two, focus on someone else. Choose another and repeat.
Don’t apologize for being in charge.
You are not going to be perfect. That’s OK; no one is. Do the best you can and keep moving.
Like packing a parachute, you make sure it’s ready before you jump, not after. Come to whatever event it is as well-prepared as you can; when you have done the homework, it will give you additional confidence.
Exude Positive energy.
Attitudes can be infectious. If yours is positive and energetic and confident, it will catch on with the others.
They always told us that the worst thing you can do when jumping is to have a “weak exit” – you don’t commit and make a good jump. Instead you just sort of tumble out the door. When that happens, you run a higher risk of getting tangled with your lines, or colliding with the airplane.
The same applies for leadership; you may think stepping gently into the role is best, but it is not. Leading can make you a little uncomfortable, but you will have a better experience and be giving the team what they want and need if you have a strong exit.
So calm yourself, take deep breaths, and remember that they expect you to lead. And when you get to the door and the green light comes on, leap out into the wind with confidence.
Want to learn more about how to step into a new leadership role with confidence? Check out my course Essential Leadership Skills for the New Manager. You can preview the first several videos free.