Skip to main content

5 Hidden Fears of Many Leaders

By January 29, 2019Church, Fear, Leadership

I’ve learned through working with dozens of pastors and leaders, if we are not careful, leadership can become a game we play rather than a mission we live.

Leader try to impress another leader. All leaders, at one time or another, try to impress the people we are attempting to lead. Part of the key to “winning the game” can become a game of the leader bluffing everyone into thinking he or she has everything within his or her sphere of responsibility under their control.

Leader, be honest – how often has this been true for you?

And all of it is derived out of internal fears every leader carries. We can mask them. Pretend they aren’t real, and yet deep down we know they are very much a part of our reality.

As leaders, part of the charade we can be tempted to play is that we aren’t always honest about how we are feeling. That’s especially true of the fears we have as a leader. It’s almost as if there’s an unwritten rule we have to hide our true emotions because, if people knew what we were really feeling they may not respect us, they may not follow us, and – just being candid – they may not even like us.

Which, being unliked is some leader’s greatest fear.

(Is the honest of this post too much for you?)

No denying, there is high expectation for leaders to be excellent in their roles. I’m not trying to lump more pressure on leaders, but I believe many times, if we are honest about the pressures we face, about our own shortcomings, weaknesses and – even our fears, we would be better grounded to face them. We would also attract loyal followers who would be more willing to help fill in the gaps of our leadership.

And, we would better welcome the strength of God in our lives when we admit our weaknesses. His strength is perfect when our strength is gone.

Wouldn’t it be easier if we dropped the game playing and revealed the true fears we have in leadership?

Call me a Snitch if you want, but I’m breaking the silence. Be honest if you can often identify with this any of these hidden fears.

Here are 5 hidden fears of many leaders:

I don’t know what to do! – Okay, so what’s new? Leadership takes people places they’ve never been, which often includes the leader. If things are staying the same you won’t need a leader. Unchartered waters mean learning on the job at times. Many leaders drown in their own ignorance, refusing to ask for help. Great leaders know they don’t have all the answers and are willing to seek input from others. Seek a mentor. Hire a coach or consultant. Recruit a board of advisers. Get another degree. Keep learning. It’s part of maturing as a leader. (Read 2 Chronicles 20 for this one.)

I can’t keep up! – Duh! You’re leading. This means you’re going somewhere. The pace of good leadership in a rapidly changing world is often mind-boggling. The sense of being overwhelmed should not be a secret. In fact, if one is walking by faith, it should be a necessity. Learning to navigate through untested waters, and growing from the experience, is a part of successful leadership. Find the help you need now. It starts by admitting you need help. The leaders who achieve success long-term are constantly improving – continually refining their leadership style and abilities. (Read Exodus 18 for more on this.)

I’m afraid of the unknown!– Seriously, who wouldn’t be? If things are growing, (or declining) demands are building and there are days with more questions than answers, human emotions are only natural. And, fear seems like the most logical one. Follow King David’s advice. When you’re afraid, trust in God. You may be scared. He’s not. Cast your cares upon Him. He’s got the whole world in His hands. Your situation won’t cause Him to be dismayed. Be bold and admit your fears of what’s next – fears of what could happen – fears of what you don’t even know you’re fearing – to a few trusted advisers. Allow others to speak reality and strength into your life. You can do this! (Check out Judges 6 for more on this one.)

I don’t know if I’m the right person for this job! – It’s common for leaders to question their position at times. It could be they have done all they were called to do. It could be they are bored. It could be God is stirring their hearts for something new. It could simply be a temporary emotion. Don’t suppress the emotion. Press into it and figuring out the source of the emotion. It may lead to something good. Allow others to help you discern and listen for the heart of God on the matter. (Read Exodus 3 for more about this one!)

I don’t feel appreciated or respected.– Every leader needs respect. It’s what fuels us many days. Knowing we have a team of people willing to follow us into the unknown fuels our desire to lead even better. Consider why you feel this way. Is it an insecurity on your part or is it warranted by your actions? Regardless of the reason, this emotion has tremendous power to derail good leadership. Great leaders admit they don’t have all the answers, but, at the same time, they are confident in who they are and what God has called them to do. Most people will follow a humble, but confident leader. My best advice is to lead well, keep improving, show people you genuinely care and give them something worth following. In spite of how you feel, if you’re leading with confidence and humility, they’ll respect you. If not, they wouldn’t respect anyone. (See Matthew 10:3 and then share what you know about Thaddeus.)

The hidden fears of leadership are real. Just admit it, leader. Whether you are leading a family or leading a Fortune 500 company the emotions of fear will sometimes seem stronger even than reality. Don’t lead in isolation. Don’t lead alone.

Who is willing to be honest today?

Which of these is your current, most hidden emotion?

What did I leave out? What are some hidden emotions many leaders face?

Related Posts

Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

More posts by Ron Edmondson

Join the discussion 35 Comments

  • ronedmondson says:

    Write a lot up front, before you post, so you have a backlog of ideas. And, keep writing.

  • jimpemberton says:

    I've been through all of these, and I certainly don't consider myself to be any kind of uber-leader.

    To be sure, I know leaders who shouldn't be leading precisely because these things are actually true for them. So these represent very real reality checks that all leaders need to make. Leaders should engage in healthy self-evaluations.

    On the other hand, these can also be idols in a leaders life. In that case, if these are taken beyond a healthy self-evaluation, the leader needs to repent.

    I taught a class on leadership several years ago that took lessons from the life of Moses. One thing I noticed as I developed the material for the class was that God spent 40 years building Moses up in the house of Pharaoh and 40 years tearing him down by teaching him desert survival. Moses went from the arrogance of killing an Egyptian to almost being too humble to even come back and do what God told him to do. The reality of our own limitations should be the very thing that makes us capable leaders among God's people. The reason is that we are forced to rely on God instead of foolishly relying on a false view of our strengths. That's the difference between healthy self-evaluation and idolatry: recognizing God's equipping for our strengths and trusting God in the midst of our weaknesses, for he superintends both.

  • Sean Van Zant says:

    I don't know how to do it. I don't know if I can do this (ministry) anymore.

  • Mark says:

    I don’t know a succinct way to put it, but how about the feeling that no one is listening? How about the people who expect you To fix a problem, but want you to fix it their way. No matter how much you talk they don’t listen, and end up getting upset, leaving the Church, and telling people the Pastor wouldn’t take time to fix their problem!

    Wow, that was actually very cathartic to put that into words! Thanks Ron!

  • Raquel

    I have had each one of these feelings over and over! Including the added ones in comments – I feel like giving up, and what if I fail?
    God has been so gracious over the past year and a half of my first ministry leadership experience. After feeling all these and trying to run away from it multiple times, God has reassured me of my calling through my elders and by keeping me here, even though I kept trying to run. He has even taken away the “am I in the right place?” feeling, for now, and restored and deepened my passion for my church and community. Of course, with this revelation comes attack and I’ve struggled with these feelings even more, but with stronger confidence and perseverence. Gonna need to refer back to this post to be reminded, though!
    Thank you!

  • Many times we feel like giving up. But, we may not be ready to accept the fact. Our perseverence is tested at reular intervals.

  • Melissa says:

    What if I fail…

    Ron, your posts are really working my brain! Hope the move is going well, God has provided perfect weather…

  • Keith says:

    This is exactly what I needed to hear tonight…ironically, I have a ministry for pastors to help them realize that they are NOT superman and need to be intentional and proactive about the very REAL burnout that occurs in many of their lives; yet lately I have been feeling burned out to an extent myself. I'm trying to do a full time demanding job, involved in several ministry ventures and attempting to start up a full time coaching practice. Maybe God needed me to really experience this stuff, before I could really understand and encourage pastors/ministry leaders in the "unforced rhythms of Grace"!
    Thanks Pastor Ron, for the reminder and clear presentation of what we ALL need to hear.

  • Candie Blankman

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. And at this time in my ministry, times a million! And,in my case, not very hidden at all. We are in a time of intensive “in-depth looking at ourselves” and I have admitted all of these things to our elders… well… except the fifth one. I actually am feeling pretty respected, at the moment. But ask me tomorrow! Almost 20 years in ministry in various roles and always these emotions are daily companions along the way. The trick, in my experience, is to be aware of them but not driven by them. I submit them honestly to the Lord and then ask for whatever I need to be faithful.

  • sthrnstrawberry says:

    Not just leaders need to admit this, but followers (or middle managers) also. There are many times that I'm almost paralyzed by the fact that I don't know what do & am afraid to admit it. Often I dread it, put it off, and then finally ask for advice. Once I ask the answer is given with no judgement. But the dread & fear of admitting I didn't know what to do delayed everyone. Often leaders need to remember to make it ok to ask questions. Just by saying "it's alright if you don't know what to do in this process, call me if you come up with any questions" makes that fear subside.

    Maybe it's just a "new job" thing, but switching companies & going from the person that answered everyone's questions to the person asking all the questions makes me feel inadequate & as if I've made the wrong move (am I in the right place?).

    • ronedmondson says:

      Yes you are right. I wrote mostly to leaders but many posts, this one for sure, speaks to all of us. Thanks

  • Shaun Stirland says:

    I've heard that good leaders get people to look up to them. Great leaders help people look up to themselves. They help people realize they (the person) can do more than they think they can and not just in "you can do better" kind of way.

  • Mike

    “I believe that many times, if we were honest about the pressures we face, about our own shortcomings, weaknesses and fears, we would be better grounded to face them. We would also attract loyal followers who would be more willing to help fill in the gaps of our leadership.”

    I have always agreed with this. However, I’ve recently found it to not be true in my life. In our church I’ve tried to have leadership team structure. As part of that structure I’ve been willing to ask questions, seek counsel, and receive input. Rather than cause more respect and loyalty it caused less. One of the key people on my team decided they can’t respect me and be loyal if I have questions. They said its a sign I poor leadership. Obviously I disagree and have come to realize that this person lack maturity and understanding of what leadership is. The only reason I share this is that it isn’t that easy. Just because we are honest and open doesn’t mean people will respond positively. Should we stop being honest and open? No. But we must make sure that the people we are honest with are mature enough to handle it. Thanks for the post, I enjoyed it and agree with it.

  • Wow. Great post Ron. I believe that every leader has faced each of these at some point. I know if certainly have. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Great post! I needed to read this today.
    Would it make me a bad leader if I said I am feeling most of these?

  • livingundone says:

    I feel tired. So many leaders seem loathe to admit they need a break. Whether things are going well or poorly every leader needs time to recharge.