7 Keys to Becoming a Fearless & Influential Leader

By Larry Jacobson www.LarrryJacobson.com

© 2017 All rights reserved

Leadership is a skill and art that one never finishes developing. Even the best leaders become the best – and stay on top – as a result of their commitment to continually improve their leadership skills.

As CEO of an events planning company - and as captain of my own boat during a six-year circumnavigation - I learned many leadership skills I’m now glad to share. They are both Ocean and Boardroom tested. www.LarrryJacobson.com

While I’m sharing key traits of all good leaders, it’s important to remember that each leader has their own style, and you too will develop your own style. And as with everything else in life, the level of success you’ll achieve as a leader will depend on how much effort you are willing to invest in sharpening your leadership skills.

“If you think you are leading and no one is following, you are just taking a walk.” – Afghan proverb

Let’s ensure you’re not just taking a walk. Leaders are not born; they are made by repeated Behavior And Action.

While there are many behaviors, actions, skills, and traits, which build strong leaders, here I will focus on seven of the most important of these traits. Practice these and your success as a leader will increase dramatically.

The first of the 7 Keys to Effective Leadership is one that stops many from accepting a leadership role: FEAR. 

1. Becoming a Fearless Leader

The #1 obstacle to being an influential leader is FEAR. All leaders experience fear at some point. But you’ve been afraid before, haven’t you? I certainly have.

I’ve been chased by Komodo dragons in Indonesia and thought I was going to be their next meal.

I was afraid while we were dodging pirates in the Gulf of Aden. These were real pirates, not Disney characters.

I was afraid while battling the worst storm of my life in the middle of the Red Sea. With 50-knot winds and 30-foot seas for over 24 hours, I was afraid for myself, the boat, but most of all, for my crew. All I wanted to do was go down below, crawl into a bunk, pull the covers up over my eyes, and wish it all away.

But I was captain and leader - and fear - like other emotions, is contagious. The last thing I needed was a crew frozen with fear; I needed a crew who was inspired and motivated, and I needed to instill confidence in them. It didn’t matter how rough the conditions were. I needed my crew to do their jobs for the overall safety of the boat. I had gotten us into the situation and I needed to get us out—and I needed a motivated working crew to succeed.

Fear, like other emotions, is contagious.

I chose to lead by inspiring my crew, explaining how we were going to get out of the situation, what their jobs were, and we worked together to get our boat to safety.

We all know that Fear causes one of two reactions: Fight or Flight. There were no flights going out of the middle of the Red Sea that morning, so our only choice was to stay and fight, and to learn about fear.

I learned that Fear is nature’s way of making us focus on the task at hand. It sharpens your senses, makes you more alert. And, you can use that fear to your advantage.

Leaders Know How to Use Fear to Their Advantage.

How to Use Fear to Your Advantage

1. The first step is to recognize the fear is there. If you had been with us in the Red Sea that day, you would have seen my palms sweating, my eyes darting all around taking in the scene with perfect clarity, my muscles pumped up from the adrenalin, and you could have heard my heart beating through my chest.

Think back to a terrifying moment in your life. Do you recognize the signs? These are your body’s physiological reactions designed to get you through that situation, you’re not actually having a heart attack like you might think.

2. The second step in using fear to your advantage is to accept the fear; even embrace it. Know that you’re afraid, but also know what that fear is doing FOR you.

Know it’s making you more focused, sharper, and more alert. You can use those strengths right there in the situation when you’re afraid. You better believe that when I was behind the wheel in 30-foot seas, I was focused!

It doesn’t matter whether you’re behind the wheel in 30-foot seas or behind your desk about to make an important call to your biggest client; it helps to be focused, sharp, and more alert.

When you accept and embrace your fear, you disable it; you take away its power. It’s like that little red devil that sits on your shoulder and tells you to do bad things, like having the third cocktail or another scoop of ice cream. You’re inviting it along for the ride but it no longer has any say in what you think or how you act. You take away its power. You no longer listen to the wind as it howls through the rigging. You have to get behind the wheel and start steering.

2. Leadership is Being a Risk-Taker

The scariest day of my life was a cold crisp December morning when we sailed out beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, turned south and headed for places unknown. Why? Because I didn’t know really what I was doing, and I was in a leadership position with a crew of five who looked up to me for guidance. I remember being very afraid of the risk I was taking.

That was the day I was risking everything I had created in my life just for the chance at making my dream come true. That was the day I learned to face fear nearly every day for the next six years. Fear and Risk became the norm. I was risking everything I had worked so hard for and built in my life including:

  • • My career—20 years in the making
  • • My income—went from pretty good to zero in a day
  • • My security of having a job, friends, and family
  • • My physical home—sold to pay for my journey
  • • My identity—who I was as an executive—to become an explorer

It would have been easy to let circumstances decide for me and stay home with my good secure life and pass up a chance at my dream.

There are many things that can get in the way of achieving our dreams, but there is one obstacle that stands out: all of the good things we have in our lives.

It’s the status quo, the comfort zone. We all have good things in our lives. We all have comfort zones. We all have reasons not to take risks. But in whatever we do, whether personal or business, there’s a risk. We all know the rules:

No risk, no reward, and usually the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.

Leadership is not saying what is impossible, but rather what is possible.

In your personal and business life, the status quo gets in the way of change. Current systems, methods, and habits stand in the way of new ones.

But remember that improvement always comes with taking risks, and true leaders are risk-takers.

Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do…”

Or, for you sports fans: “You can’t steal second base if you don’t take your foot off of it first.”

3. Leadership is Having Passion for Your Purpose

Why did I risk everything just for the chance at making a dream come true? Why should you? One word: Passion!

If you are passionate about what you want to do, it will drive you to take the risk.

At age 13, this was my first boat. I was hooked. I had found my passion. That’s when I decided I was going to sail around the world. I kept that passion alive for 33 years until I could make my dream come true.

At age 16, this was my next boat.

Passion is why I took risks in the first place, and passion is what got me through my fears. I lived and breathed sailing.

When I was younger, I could see myself on my bigger cruising boat. My visions were so clear that when I closed my eyes, I could see myself sailing back underneath the Golden Gate Bridge after sailing around the world.

And 33 years later I transformed that dream into reality!

How about you?

Do you have a vision for your role as a leader? Do you have a passion for your role? Do you have a passion for the outcomes you can achieve as a leader? No great accomplishments ever happen without vision or passion.

Leadership is not pointing out what is wrong, but rather what is right. It is not putting people down, but rather building people up.

4. Leadership is Knowing Your Course

A critical element to leadership is to know where you’re headed. How can you get people to follow you if you don’t know where you’re going, even if it’s only to the next port of call?

Even if you don’t know all the steps you’re going to take to get something done, it’s important to know where you want to end up. Whether you sail around the world, or create a project, or install a new system or way of doing things in your company, know what your ultimate goal is.

If you don’t know where you are going, then any wind direction is fine. Problem is, you may just sail around in circles.

We were setting out to make my dream come true. It wasn’t my crew’s vision but I had somehow inspired them to follow me. How did I do that? Was I a good salesman?

Imagine coming down to the boat yard to go sailing and this is what you see; an old boat arriving with months of work ahead of it. How did I get my crew to sign on to that? By inspiring them with my passion for the adventure we were about to begin.

How important is it to know your course? If while sailing 2,750 miles across the Pacific Ocean from Mexico to Tahiti, you are off course by just ONE DEGREE, you will miss your landfall by 48 miles. Two degrees = 98 miles off course. In other words, you would miss Tahiti completely. You wouldn’t even see it.

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