How to lead, even when you feel not ready and afraid
The writer

How to lead, even when you feel not ready and afraid

Consider Kwesi, who has successfully led a team of volunteers for about 12 months. The project he leads has taken a different dimension with new technical requirements. I met Kwesi while leading a coaching program for a fellowship program he was part of. 


So Kwesi was one of the clients I had to coach on the program. Kwesi narrated all the successes he had chalked as a leader over the past several months. 

However, he carried a look of frustration. 

His energy and sense of celebration did not match the great story he was telling. His anxious feelings were palpable. Then he got to the crux of the matter and landed with a simple question. I have tried to capture his exact words here:

“Until now I have driven this project with my passion and I am concerned that I may not be able to lead them because the next phase of the project is very technical and I have no knowledge in that area. How can I lead a team of volunteers to success in the next phase of my project where I have limited knowledge?” We had a 30-minute coaching session. 

The coaching raised his awareness of his leadership role and what the team needs going into the new phase of the project. Kwesi had to do what leaders do because the team was still looking for his leadership, not technical expertise. 

When we met after two days, Kwesi had a positive energy about him. After our coaching session at about 8 pm, Kwesi called 25 volunteers in the night to connect with them. 

These are the members of his leadership team. I never told Kwesi she should call anyone that night. 

He had also started researching the various technical options they could use for the next phase.

He had also connected with another volunteer organisation engaged in a similar project in another country on LinkedIn.

He was excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.

Leadership is always situational:

You might have been in a situation when you might have been promoted to head a new department that you feel you are not technically ready to lead such a team. 

Sometimes, we face a challenge unlike anything we have dealt with. In the case of Kwesi, he was leading the same team but the project took an unexpected turn he had never imagined. Leadership is complex. No two situations are the same. Below are three ideas you can adopt to stay the course when you feel not ready to lead and afraid? 

Learn that it’s OK not to be “leadership-ready”               

Leaders are dealing with complexity and no leader arrives in a new role perfect. The context is always different and comes with new demands. 

Having old ideas from an environment you may be familiar with, which can be replicated in the new role is not enough. 

I admit that leaders can transfer the principles they have learnt in dealing with one situation to another. 

However, attempting to transfer anything more than principles creates problems for leaders in new situations. 

What effective leaders do is to embrace the challenge of the new role, roll their sleeves and lead again being open to new learning. 

Kwesi regained his energy and leadership fervour when he learnt that it’s ok not to be ready. With that new perspective, he shifted his energy to what he could do given the situation he found himself in. 

Leverage your leadership strengths:    

Every leader has strengths that can be applied to the challenge at hand. In our coaching session, Kwesi became aware of the unique leadership strengths he has used to shape the project and achieve success while working with volunteers.


It became clear that he could tap into the same leadership strengths as he navigated the next leg of the project's journey. 

As a leader, he has inspired volunteers with what is possible, and he has influenced volunteers with his passion for the project and ability to organise and rally them towards the cause. 

The strengths he has honed can still be put to use as they navigate the new phase of the project. Leveraging his leadership strength, Kwesi called his entire leadership team that night to stoke their passion for the project and assure them they could still achieve their vision. 

He gave them hope to believe the vision was attainable and empowered them to act on what they believed to be true.


Look for leadership support        

There is always support available to leaders but they must be willing to accept support. 

Thomas Boansi-Sarpong, Executive Head of Finance and Operations at CalBank, and CEO Accelerator Program Cohort III member concisely captured the winning mindset that makes it possible for leaders to accept the support they need when he said, “No leader sits in a chair these days. Leaders sit on a bench.” 

This metaphor implies there is space for others to sit in leadership with whoever leads the team or organisation. 

So leaders can always ask team members to sit and think with them about the challenges facing the entire team. 


Leaders do not have to carry the load alone. Another valuable source of support for leaders is the presence of a coach on the leader’s bench. 

Coaches partner with leaders to enable them to put in perspective the challenges and opportunities they encounter. 

Through coaching, Kwesi had a new outlook which made him tap into his strengths and receive support. Leaders can also look to the example of those on a similar journey for insights.

No matter how leaders prepare, every leadership role is different and leaders must learn that it is OK not to be fully baked before assuming new roles. 

This mindset allows leaders to lead with curiosity, leverage their strengths and look for support. Many leaders have used these ideas to thrive in challenging situations when they are afraid and do not feel ready to lead. 

Be of good cheer!

Questions for Reflection:

If you do not feel ready or afraid to lead in a particular situation at work, below are two reflection questions that can get you started: 

· What leadership strengths can you leverage to lead?

· Who will you call on for support?

The writer is a Leadership Development Facilitator, Executive Coach and Strategy Consultant, Founder of the CEO Accelerator Program ( and Chief Learning Strategist at TEMPLE Advisory ( 

The mission of The Leadership Project is to harvest highly effective leadership practices and share them in a manner that other leaders can easily incorporate into their leadership practice. If you have an idea or leadership practice to share, kindly write to [email protected]

Until you read from us again, keep leading.... from leader to leader, one practice at a time.

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