5 Fundamental Challenges Most Leaders Face But Don't Want To Talk About
For some professionals, becoming a leader is the ultimate career goal. Being able to create change. Make an impact. To inspire and motivate teams to all move in one direction for “the greater good”. To potentially achieve what nobody else has achieved before.
But with such accomplishment comes great responsibility. And multiple challenges. Some challenges are simply "part of the job" and most leaders are open to discussing them in the right forum. Managing internal and external stakeholder expectations. Motivating and inspiring diverse teams and developing managerial effectiveness. Dealing with company politics and conflict management. Guiding change and employee alignment to overall company objectives. (All this while still trying to maintain some level of work-life balance.)
But what about the challenges leaders don’t talk about so readily? The ones many fear may affect their credibility as a leader. After interviewing 30 of my Director and C-level clients, there were 5 common challenges they all faced - but didn't want to tell anyone.
One of my clients, the MD of a global Financial Services company, began his career in the same company he now leads. He “grew up with” half of his present company. Colleagues who were once his friends are now his subordinates. The majority of his “social contact” at work is now limited to board members and external stakeholders. Apart from his PA, he might go an entire day without speaking to anyone in the office.
“The isolation is what gets to me the most. I used to sit on the floor with these guys, having a laugh and going for a drink after work to moan about our boss. Now I am the boss. And they’re probably all moaning about me.”
For some leaders, not all, the lack of meaningful connections can lead to feelings of loneliness. Particularly for those who naturally enjoy connecting with others. Or those who may not have much connection outside of work. Perhaps because they were too busy focusing on building their career.
“My career has always come first. And it was OK before I became a leader because I made friends at work. I was connecting with people on a daily basis so I didn’t need to connect with anyone outside. Now I wish I had invested time in cultivating relationships outside of the office to offset the loss of connection inside”. (Managing Director, global recruitment agency.)
3) Lack of Mentor
Even the best CEOs in the world will never know it all. So it comes of no surprise they too need support and guidance. But as a leader who is “supposed” to know it all – who do they turn to?
“I worked for one of the world’s leading commercial banks for 10 years. I learnt from the best, including my boss. But even with all that training, knowledge and experience – I still don’t know it all. And even though everyone expects me to have all the answers all the time, I don’t. Brand new situations arise which I’ve never had to deal with before. And all of a sudden – I’m just meant to know how to deal with it. This was one of the main reasons I came to you for coaching. I needed to have that sounding board.” (CEO – FinTech company.)
4) Fear of failure
It’s surprising how many people perceive CEO’s and leaders as fearless. The truth is, like every other person on this planet, they also "feel the fear".
“Nobody can prepare you for the fear of failure that comes when appointed a CEO. The responsibility of the future of not only the company but also the employees' livelihoods can be overwhelming. This is where coaching really made a difference for me. Because once I had learnt how to manage the stress, I was able to make better decisions and motivate my teams on a more authentic level.” (CEO, insurance company.)
5) Imposter Syndrome
This is a common phenomenon that plagues many in leadership positions. It’s the belief they are not competent enough for the leadership role. And the fear of being found out as incompetent wreaks havoc on their confidence levels.
Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, bravely admitted that he, like many of my Executive level clients, suffers from imposter syndrome. “Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.”
It's important to remember leaders are not superheroes. They are human beings. And like all human beings they have their imperfections and deep-rooted fears. Fears that, if not managed, can result in poor communication. An overbearing need to control. Outbursts of anger and frustration. Poor judgement and decision-making. And a lack of transparency, and dishonesty.
Leaders, like everyone else, must be provided with the support they need. To not only help them develop their strengths and weaknesses but to help them overcome their fears. Because until they overcome these - they won't perform at their best.
As Bill Gates once said, "Everyone needs a Coach. We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”