Few leaders are fearless, but all must be brave.
Being anxious is human. Our society sells us the idea that good leaders are fearless. In reality, most of us—nonprofit, foundation, and school professionals—are humble humans, with fearlessness waxing and waning based on the day.
Fearlessness is unrealistic, but being brave is possible when leaders like you keep your eye on what’s best for your organization’s mission and the people who are part of it.
I coach leaders across the country, and what I’ve witnessed is that confidence is earned, not granted. You get more confident, and maybe even fearless, once you show yourself just how capable you are. Your confidence rises when you name your fears and push past them.
That takes bravery, but first, it takes honesty.
Yet what so many of us do instead is pretend we’re not scared. We go into a state of flight or flight. We either avoid what needs to be done or push through with the false bravado that everyone around us can feel is inauthentic. That often results in disappointing results and confirms our original fear: We really weren’t up to the challenge and had reason to be scared. It’s a recipe for self-fulfilling low confidence.
Instead, be brave enough to admit, at least to yourself, that you’re feeling worried and uncomfortable. Even better, share it with those around you. Their empathy and support will spur you on.
Here are four steps to build your bravery and confidence:
If you’re afraid to meet with a big donor, is it that you’re scared they’ll decline to give, or is your real fear that your boss may question your capabilities, leading you to become jobless and homeless? The real fear is often existential – losing basics like safety, love, and belonging.
The negative self-talk we all have in our heads is shockingly pervasive, yet we often integrate it so deeply into our mindset that we don’t notice it’s there, running our beliefs and emotions. But it’s like a radio signal – once you tune in, you can hear it clearly.
“You’re a terrible fundraiser, and they’re never going to give a gift of that size. You didn’t even prepare well enough. You’re lazy and not as smart as they are, and you wore the wrong outfit. This is really going to reflect poorly on you, and the shower of shame is what you deserve.”
You would not let anyone you love to be spoken to the way your inner critic bullies talk to you. Instead of believing the nasty voice trying to sabotage you, name its lies.
“Actually, that’s not true. I am prepared, and I’m doing my best. I’ve gotten donations like this before, and if I don’t get this one, I’ll learn from this experience and be an even better fundraiser in the future. My boss has my back, and if she ever changes her mind, I’d be a valuable addition to many organizations aligned with my values.”
Just quieting that mean voice—with empathy for yourself and an honest assessment of what’s real and what’s not—will do wonders for your positive mindset and your ability to meet the challenge with a calm mind. In this state, tapping any needed bravery will be much easier.
Once you feel more positive, it’s time to act. I teach my coaching clients to ask themselves this powerful question: “What’s the next right step?”
You may not know everything, but you do know the next right thing to do. Naming and acting on it gives you tremendous power, inner strength, and the ability to turn a challenge that seemed overwhelmingly scary into a manageable action you’re brave enough to take.
Taking the brave step sends your brain a signal that you’ve got this, and you’re safe. That prepares you to take the next step with even more confidence, which builds momentum for tapping into your bravery whenever needed, thus strengthening your confidence even more.
The best part? In a work week with many scary things to tackle, you’re not only more effective, but you feel lighter and happier as you tackle them. This supports you and everyone around you. As one of my coaching clients recently said, “Your coaching has completely changed everything. It’s beyond just me being happier. People who report to me feel better — so the impact is exponential.”
In 2024, what your organization needs from you is to understand your own humanity, give yourself empathy, allow for imperfections, disbelieve the imposter-syndrome inner self-talk, and tap your bravery resources when things are scary.
For help strengthening your leadership, and feeling happier at work, learn more here and contact me for your complimentary coaching session.
Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.
See all posts by Jennie Winton