How to lead fearlessly when everything is falling apart

May 9, 2024

Discover how to lead fearlessly amidst chaos. This write-up unveils practical tips for embracing authenticity and confronting fears, empowering you to inspire confidence and resilience in your team even when everything seems to be falling apart.

How to lead fearlessly when everything is falling apart

Dear Regina- as a leader, I want to convey confidence and carry myself like someone everyone can trust. The only problem is, I don’t actually know what I’m doing. What can I do to hide it from my team so they don’t think I’m weak or a bad leader?

I get this question a lot as an executive coach. Inevitably, it comes up with every coachee I’ve ever worked with. This is because all humans have the innate desire to be seen, loved, and respected.

As a result, it makes sense that people think they have to hide the flawed parts of themselves - who would like me if they knew who I really was? But this is wrong thinking. And that’s because of something called physiological resonance.

I learned about physiological resonance from Dr. Tony Buchanan’s work - the gist of it is, humans are remarkably good at detecting the cortisol responses of the people around you.

Have you ever wondered why you’re watching a public speaker feeling stressed and nervous, and you get stressed and nervous? Dr. Buchanan says it’s because of physiological resonance. We are able to feel at an empathetic level what the speaker is feeling - this is human.

This shows up beyond public speaking, too - for example, if you’re stressed from work and come home to your partner and children, they’ll instantly be able to feel your stress, and mimic that too. Cortisol is contagious because of our remarkable ability to emotionally match the people around us.

As a leader, the solution isn’t to overcome your stress by beating it into submission, or hiding it from your team. I’ve seen many leaders who feign confidence by saying what they think their team wants to hear, or sweeping the negative stuff under the rug, but this never works. People can tell when you’re lying because there are just too many body signals to control and manipulate. And your cortisol is (literally) oozing from your pores.

So, if lying about how confident you are isn’t the solution, what is?

Transforming the stress and fear into excitement.

Our bodies have the same physiological response to stress and excitement. Think about it: when you get nervous, your palms get sweaty and clammy. Your mouth gets dry. Your heart rate goes up. Your stomach churns. When you get excited, the same things happen. (Chances are, if you’re thinking about a recent situation where you felt these things, you may be experiencing some of the physiological symptoms as you’re reading this write-up. That’s how powerful our minds and bodies are - we can recall feelings, just like that!)

Given that the body presents the same set of physical reactions in both scenarios, the only thing you have to do is shift your thinking. And the thinking starts with asking yourself the right question.

In any stressful situation, you are likely focused on why something is going to fail. You are scared. In any exciting situation, you are likely focused on what possibilities there are. You are curious.

So, instead of asking yourself, “Why is this doomed and why am I a failure?”, adopting the curiosity mindset of, “What could the possibilities be here?” has major transformation power.

You’ll get the most effective solution if you are as present and non-judgmental as possible. Take off your fear-based lenses and look at the facts as-is. Don’t insert extra commentary or judgment. This will give you a sober view.

Once you collect the information soberly, you can then add in a narrative that resonates with you on why everything is not doomed. This has to be a narrative you believe - remember, people can tell when you’re lying! - but by having a new narrative, you can then begin to share honestly with your team, investors, partners, spouses, and friends.

----------

I was working not too long ago with a coachee of mine that I’ll call Jamie, who was dealing with a very sticky-but-common situation. Jamie wanted to raise their next round of funding, but they did not want their original lead to lead this round due to creative differences.

To say Jamie was stressed and scared was a gross understatement. They said, “I’m worried other investors won’t want to invest in me, because they’ll think I’m a weak and bad leader whose lead lost faith in me.”

After they were done, I said, “Jamie, what I think you mean is, you’re thinking something along the lines of… ‘If I go to other funds and pitch them, they’ll all ask me if my lead is going to lead again. And when I say no, they will think I’m a loser and failure, and they won’t want to invest in me. Then, none of our customers will want to work with us anymore. And my team will hate me, and I’ll have to lay everyone off. And then, the company is going to go bankrupt and die.’ Is that right?”

Jamie laughed bitterly, vehemently nodded, and said, “I know you’re trying to exaggerate, but that’s no exaggeration. It’s almost like you’ve heard this story before.”

That’s because I have. 

I then challenged Jamie to take a sober look at the facts, as is. Here are the true facts that we gathered:

  • I want to raise another round. I am making the decision that the previous lead is not a good fit to lead the next round.
  • Investors will ask whether the previous lead will lead again, but this is a standard question, not something directly singling me out.
  • Our company has a product that customers love and that is making amazing recurring revenue.
  • My team ultimately trusts me as a leader.

And here were the unconfirmed, false narratives that Jamie’s fear was adding in, causing them to think they were a bad and weak leader:

  • The previous lead is the one dumping me, not the other way around.
  • Investors are immediately out if my previous lead doesn’t get in - they don’t care about the traction and hugely positive metrics.
  • Our customers are using our product primarily because of our institutional backers - not because we’re actually good.
  • My team is fickle and will leave as soon as things get hard.

For each of these false narratives, we debunked them.

  • The decision to not have the same lead was, at worst, a mutual decision, and at best, one-way with Jamie leaving the lead. But Jamie wasn’t getting dumped - they were the one who initiated the parting.
  • Investors, of course, factor leads participating again as a major plus, but it was only one criteria that they were measuring. Jamie’s product shined and customers loved it. Investors that Jamie liked cared more about that than anything else.
  • It also helped that the investors Jamie wanted to work with understood that it’s a normal part of fundraising that partner dynamics with founders just didn’t work out sometimes.
  • Jamie’s customers loved the product for the product, not the backers. (This is one of the greatest incorrect assumptions I see founders make - that customers care about which VCs back them. While it might be a small factor for the savvy techie, the product ultimately has to be good to keep users coming back - not the VCs that were part of the fundraise.)
  • Jamie spent the past 1.5 years building major trust tokens with their team. This was hugely helpful as they now could cash in on some of those trust tokens when times were getting tough.
  • It also turned out, most of the team cared very little about who backed the company - they were mainly there because they loved the product they were building.

We were now ready to form a new, authentic narrative that Jamie felt 100% comfortable with sharing to investors and the team. Here it is below:

“I am raising my next round of funding for [company]. With [previous lead], I decided our way of working together wasn’t working for us - [previous lead] has backed many companies and acknowledges they didn’t have the bandwidth to give us the attention we deserved, and I deeply value investors who will work with us and give us the time and support in this partnership. I think that’s something you value, too. Therefore, we’ve mutually decided it’s best to part ways.”

From there, Jamie was able to focus the conversation on how well the company’s product was performing, and share testimonials from existing customers on how extremely disappointed they’d be if the company ceased to exist. Jamie also clearly laid out the path forward for explosive growth, which made the VCs they pitched very excited.

In case you were wondering - in the end, Jamie was able to secure a new lead for the company, and the team wasn’t the least bit phased that the original lead wasn’t part of the next round.

The reason this worked was because Jamie told a narrative that they 100% believed in. They focused on what the possible outcomes were without the fear-based lens, and transformed their fear into excitement.

This gave Jamie major confidence, allowing them to show up as the strong, excellent leader they always were. Investors could see it, Jamie’s team could see it, and now Jamie could see it, too.

Summary

Let’s do a summary of these steps - if you want to convey confidence and carry yourself as a leader:

  1. Do not hide the fears you have. You cannot lie - physiological resonance makes this impossible. People can see right through feigned confidence, they will trust you even less, and it will make you look even more deeply insecure.
  1. Instead, process your fears. To do this, start by collecting the facts without the fear-based lens. What can you say is objectively true?
  1. Ask yourself: what are the stories or narratives I’m telling myself here? Write them down.
  1. Then, discuss them with your coach: how are these stories false? Write down a counterargument to each part, even if you don’t fully believe them yet. I recommend bringing in a coach or trusted friend during this part, because it’s often much easier to see how stories are false when someone else is there to point out incongruencies to you.some text
    1. At worst, you can’t for sure confirm that they are true (eg: “These people will 100% think this of me.”) This will help you remain skeptical of this story.
    2. At best, you will see for sure that your fear is telling you lies (eg: “This situation isn’t unique to me - I know ten other founders who have gone through the exact same thing.”) This will make it easy to debunk.
  1. Finally, decide on a narrative that you feel confident about and that makes you excited. You will see that this narrative honors you and your truth much more than the initial narrative, because it is shifting you out of fear and into curiosity.

This new narrative will give you the genuine confidence you crave, not the feigned one of “fake it til you make it” leaders. And genuine confidence helps others trust you and your word, which instantly connects people to you even more. Your vulnerability and courage is the thing that makes you appear confident and even-keeled.

Table of Contents

Get Tactical Resources, right in your inbox

Thank you! Check your email to confirm your subscription.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Read More

Regina Gerbeaux

Who’s Regina Gerbeaux?

Regina Gerbeaux (@_rpgbx) is the executive coach to some of the fastest scaling startups in the world. She is also a founder currently interested in the food delivery and logistics space.

Regina was the first person trained by Matt Mochary (executive coach to the CEOs of Coinbase, Brex, and many more) in the Mochary Method Curriculum.

Her tactical templates and operational write-ups have been referenced and used by fast-scaling companies, including BioRender, CoreDB, dYdX, and many more.

Follow me on Social