3 Ways to Lead in Spite of Self-Doubt


First things first, I need you to understand that every great leader since the inception of time has doubted themselves, and they have all made big, fat, ugly mistakes.

Moses got his folks lost for 40 years. It happens, people!

History is riddled with examples of leaders who screwed up on Tuesday and won by Friday.

You’re probably doing just fine despite your shortcomings and personal doubts. However, if you are struggling, here are three ways for you to lead confidently in spite of how you might be feeling about your own skills and knowledge.

Listen more than you talk.

If you’re leading a team, a congregation, or even your family and you aren’t sure about your decisions, you are allowed to poll the audience. Hearing the ideas and perspectives of others is far more helpful than wringing your hands over plan A or plan B.

Think about the last big decision you made. Whether it was accepting a job offer, purchasing a car, or even starting a blog, you likely received some outside opinions before making a final decision. A real leader trusts themselves but isn’t too proud to consider feedback from others.

Stop and observe.

As leaders, we are often in a perpetual state of “busy-ness.” We bounce from meeting to meeting and phone call to conference call. We have lunch appointments, mid-day strategy sessions, and evening happy hours. It’s pretty tiring. It also prevents us, at times, from noticing whether processes work well or fail. You may be incredibly talented, hard-working, and compassionate, however, none of those things will make you automatically stop and slow down.

When you finally slow down to catch your breath, you might be surprised by what you find. Maybe you’ll see the cracks in foundational processes or inefficiencies. Perhaps you’ll learn that all is well and all that’s needed from you is an “atta boy” for your team.

Either way, it’s important to pause once and a while and observe your surroundings.

Jump in.

If you’re really struggling with self-doubt, find something productive to do and lend your efforts in that area. Accomplishment is a great confidence booster. I don’t advise that you abdicate your leadership position to work in (or hide) in the mailroom. I am advising that you simply take action. If you can’t make a big decision, make some little ones first. Deciding to open a new office in a new city is a big decision. Creating an extra job opening is important, but the decision carries less weight. Remember, it’s okay to get your feet wet before you dive in head-first!

There is no magic pill to take to help you suddenly feel confident and vigorous. Doubts and fears are a lot like your shadow. When light is cast on you, your shadow will be there right beside you. The only way to avoid your shadow is to get out of the light. The only way to avoid fear and self-doubt as a leader is not to lead. That’s not an option for you, or I promise you would not be reading this article.

So, here’s a little bit of magic if there is any: it’s okay. It’s okay that you’re unsure. It’s okay that you’re fearful. Those feelings mean that you care. You care about whatever cause you are spearheading. If it’s work, you care about your company and your team. If it’s family, you care about your kids and your spouse. Remind yourself when you are uncertain that it’s because you care. There’s a lot of comfort in knowing why you’re fearful.

BONUS: Find a Consultant or Advisor

It’s also okay to seek council. I spend a lot of time these days in an advisory role. The CEOs of multi-million dollar organizations utilize consultants. It’s good business.

When I was the co-CEO of Primerica, my partner Rick Williams and I spent a lot of time sharing our ideas before we ever implemented them. We counseled and advised each other and we sought the opinions of other leaders we respected. So many people think it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help when it’s generally the opposite.

The bottom line is that you can’t let doubt and fear stop you from acting. It’s far easier to embrace fear as an emotion relevant to the weight of the decision than it is to let it paralyze you.

By now, you’ve learned that I love Winston Churchill. We know that his actions helped to defeat Hitler and shape the world for years to come. I’ve been in the Cabinet War Rooms in London, where Churchill met with Britain’s leaders during the war. It was a dire time in our history, and the decisions weighing on Churchill were heavy with consequence. There are grooves in the arm of his chair from where his signet ring so often tapped nervously. Imagine for a moment sitting there and taking in the news of what we know to be true about WWII as it unfolded. Still, Churchill is quoted as saying, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.”

Today’s leaders certainly bear a lot of responsibility for the futures of those they lead. While our decisions can certainly cause calamity or success, Churchill’s same wartime principles hold true. He was scared because he cared deeply about his country and the world. He wanted to stop the atrocities of the Third Reich and restore safety and peace. To fail in those moments was too horrifying to contemplate. Failure was not an option.

I’ve often said that it’s in dire times that we are lent the strength of our better angels to prevail. Fortunately, our decisions, though important, do not hold the fate of the world. No matter what you are trying to sort out, please do not let fear decide your future. It’s 100% okay to feel that fear. It’s 100% okay to second guess your ideas. It’s never okay to let your fear dictate your actions.

I’ll leave you with the knowledge that nearly every decision I have ever wrestled with or lost sleep over was bigger in my head than it was to deal with in reality. Don’t build mental barriers that are harder to traverse than the actual problem. That’s called self-sabotage, and that’s a topic for another day.

I’ll see you at the top because the bottom sure is crowded!


  1. Hugh

    Everyone needs to read this

    • John Addison

      Glad you enjoyed this article Hugh. See you at the top because the bottom is too crowded!


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“The scarcest resource in the world is not oil, it’s leadership.”

As Co-CEO of the largest independent financal services company in North America, John Addison’s skill as a leader was tested and honed daily. He retired in 2015 after taking the company and it’s people to massive heights. He’s just not done helping people get to the top. Today, he’s at the helm of Addison Leadership Group, INC working daily to mentor and educate new leaders.