Lead Without Fear: 5 Habits of Women Who Make Things Happen

If you want to drive change and propel growth, make friends with fear.

Women in leadership face demands, rapid changes, shifting expectations and disruption every day.

“To be able to respond quickly and intelligently to the fast pace of change … (you) must be creative, responsive and agile,” says Amanda Setili, author of Fearless Growth: The New Rules to stay Competitive, Foster Innovation and Dominate Your Market. “You’re going to feel fear, sure — and yet you must act in spite of it all.”

The good news: Women leaders who charge ahead despite the challenges – and the fears that can accompany them – share some habits and embrace a few behaviors that help them succeed.

Here’s what they do – and how you can take on their fearless leadership practices:

1. Embrace uncertainty

Uncertainty often slows down people. They’re afraid of moving ahead without knowing all the facts and details. But the best leaders understand that working in predictable circumstances leave them in situations where everything – from products and processes to competitors and customers – looks the same. In those situations, there are few opportunities for you to differentiate yourself or your company.

“Uncertainty creates opportunities to pull ahead of the competition,” Setili says.

Here’s where you might want to take advice from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. He told employees in his annual letter that if they wait for 90% or more of the information they think they need to make a decision, they were moving too slowly. Most wise decisions can be made with about 70% of the details.

The key: You need to be ready to correct course. Most decisions don’t need to be spot-on, as long as you monitor the momentum to be sure it’s in the right direction – and have a plan to set things right if it’s not.

2. Partner, borrow and share

In the past, your organization might have encouraged you to work in somewhat of a silo: Get the information you need to operate from within your walls. But today, leaders and top companies that operate fearlessly crowdsource, outsource, partner and share to get a hold of the best information and people.

Consider this, Setili says: “Alibaba is the most valuable company in Asia, but has no inventory. Airbnb has a greater market capitalization than Marriott, but owns no hotels or real estate. Uber is the world’s largest car service, but owns no cars.”

These companies and their leaders rely on partners and contractors to make their businesses successful.

Fearless leaders collaborate with others outside their company so they can strengthen the people, processes and capabilities inside their company.

Social media – LinkedIn, in particular – can help you connect beyond your organization. But the best collaborative opportunities happen in person. Join industry groups, your local chamber of commerce and professional organizations – and most importantly, attend their events.

3. Create and cultivate your ecosystem

The right professional “ecosystems” don’t just happen. They’re created it and cultivated until they take off.

You want to figure out who’s already in the ecosystem you have control over – whether it’s the whole organization, a division or department – and who you’d like to have in it. Work with those people to understand the value you expect them to deliver and what they expect to receive from being part of your ecosystem. In addition to work quality and quantity expectations, you want to include expectations for the kind of interactions they have with other people in the ecosystem.

Try to create opportunities for you and your people to nurture their relationships through meaningful work, socialization (although don’t make it forced socialization) and opportunities to grow skills.

4. Learn fast and furiously

Learning quickly must be coupled with an “experimentation mindset.” In short, you want to observe and learn more about your business, processes and people than others do. Then you’re ready to take action and make changes before anyone else is fully ready.

For instance, UPS (and other freight carriers) suspect they’ll be required to lower emissions and improve fuel efficiency someday. So leaders now have a “rolling laboratory” – fueled by an “experimentation mindset” – of more than 10 different types of alternative fuel vehicles. When it’s time to change, UPS leaders plan to be ahead of it.

“Make sure you are constantly experimenting, learning from successes and failures, and applying your knowledge,” Setili says. “Anticipate the changes in your business environment and set specific learning goals based on those changes.”

5. Build trust into everything

Women who lead without fear trust their colleagues will do their part, employees will take responsible initiative when necessary and business partners will operate honesty and effectively. But it’s not blind trust. They build trust into everything they do through honest communication – especially when the message is difficult – shared experiences, empowerment and support through failure.

How? Fearless leaders want to make it “safe” for employees to voice opinions and ideas, take action and try new things. They do that by standing behind employees when they make decisions and take risks, whether those work out or not.

“When you give people challenging but realistic goals, act in a transparent way, show vulnerability, grant people discretion about how they do their work, and show appreciation for work well done, you’ll be amazed how much your team can accomplish,” Setili says.

Fearless leaders don’t live in a bubble. They’re weary of some volatile situations and circumstances. But rather than buckle in fear, they fall back on consistent habits and behaviors to guide them toward success.