What Skeletons Are in Your Leadership Closet?

When coaching leaders, one of the topics that I always explore is how one’s inner game has a significant impact on one’s outer game. The inner game ‘skeletons in the closet’ can hinder leaders from achieving their full potential. We all have skeletons in our closets; however, sometimes, we can’t identify them without delving deep, and even if we know what they are, we can struggle to find a way forward.

What are some of the fears that you have hiding in your leadership closet? Let’s open the door to identify what might be lurking and uncover what is holding you back. We can then explore approaches to move past your fears and incrementally work towards becoming a more confident and effective leader.

What triggers your fear?

We feel fear when we think we are being threatened or will be harmed. Fear is a physical experience. How does your body feel when you feel fear as a leader? Pay attention to the cues you get from your body and notice the situations that trigger those responses so that in those moments, you can make the shifts needed to change the narrative you have in your mind and create new approaches and patterns of behavior.

Fear is a natural emotion that all of us experience as humans. Managing your fear gives you more confidence, reduces self-doubt, negative self-talk, and low self-esteem, and puts you in control of how you show up in the world.


One of the most significant hurdles of leadership is the fear of failure. The pressure to succeed and meet expectations can be overwhelming and result in paralyzing fear that keeps us from taking risks and innovating. In Carol Dweck’s book Growth Mindset, she talks about learning as an alternate mindset to failing. Our words and ways of thinking can impact our ability to make positive shifts. So, when faced with fear, it helps to flip the script by using phrases and questions like “When I,” “I am not good at this… yet,” and “What other strategies can I utilize?”

The key to overcoming fear is to embrace it as an opportunity to learn and grow. By taking small steps towards your goals, celebrating each success, and learning from each failure, you can understand that failure is not the antithesis of success but rather a crucial component of the journey. Don’t be held back by fear of failure, but rather, leverage it as a catalyst to achieve great things.

Being a Fraud

A lot has been written about imposter syndrome, and there are numerous articles about whether calling it a syndrome is inaccurate. Syndrome or not, when you are in the throes of self-doubt, it can be paralyzing and lead to indecision and poor performance. Feeling like a fraud has nothing to do with capability; it usually stems from perfectionist tendencies and intellectual self-doubt. Feeling like a fraud can also result from a sense of not belonging that makes you feel vulnerable.

None of these struggles are signs of weakness. Reframe by focusing on your mindset around what you are feeling, and start by acknowledging and accepting your feelings and emotions. Think about your past performance. Past performance is usually a good indicator of future performance. Start to write down all the wins you have had so that they are more tangible and can be celebrated as successes. When you feel down, talk to a trusted advisor who can help reframe your mindset based on your situational sense-making. Take time to work on your self-talk. It is possible to turn fear into excitement; it is all about how you respond to fear in your mind that puts you back in control.


When you are focused on bottom-line results, there are several reasons why decision-making can be scary. Some leaders fear being held accountable for their choices, while others worry about the uncertainty of decision-making. There can also be challenges around maintaining emotional self-control during decision-making and the feeling of being overwhelmed due to decision-making fatigue.

Confronting your fear of decision-making with a clear plan of attack is the best approach. It might require trial and error, so give yourself grace as you shift your behavioral patterns. A question to ask yourself is, “What data do I need to make this decision?” Gathing data is an integral part of decision-making. Depending on the type of decision-making you are doing, you might want to use a framework such as a decision-making matrix or a SWOT analysis. Also, ask yourself, “What feedback do I need to elicit to position myself to make the best decision?” Then, decide if you need to run any experiments to test your thinking with anyone on your team or in your organization.

Difficult Conversations

Managing conflict is a common managerial and leadership fear. Having tough conversations is an inevitable part of being a leader, but many leaders fear the conflict and discomfort of direct conversations. However, avoiding difficult conversations can harm team dynamics and business performance.

To overcome the fear of difficult conversations, prepare in advance by clarifying your intentions, outlining specific issues and observations, and practicing active listening and empathy. A feedback model that can be used is the Situation-Behavior-Impact-Intent model (SBII). The model has you engage in a conversation that takes you away from creating your narrative and asks about the intent of the behavior. Remember that difficult conversations are not just about conflict but about finding solutions and improving outcomes.

The Body Keeps Score

When you experience fear, your body gets a rush of stress hormones. These stress hormones, over time, have a negative impact on your body’s ability to be healthy. Some symptoms that can be physically manifested are headaches, lack of sleep, and gastrointestinal issues. Being fearful can also impede your ability to learn.

One of the challenges that leaders face in their roles is managing stress. Managing stress is a crucial skill for leaders to develop, as it can significantly affect their performance and decision-making abilities. One effective way to manage stress and improve leadership capabilities is prioritizing and improving one’s health. This can include activities such as regular exercise, healthy eating, mindfulness practices, and adequate sleep.

Fear is a common human emotion, and no one is immune to it. By understanding and confronting your fears and focusing on your health, you can become a more effective and confident leader. The next time you feel the fear creeping in, face it head-on, embrace it as a learning experience, and step into your leadership role with confidence and conviction.

Happy Halloween!



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