“I don’t think I’m ready for an executive leadership role,” the 42-year-old coaching client said to me on the phone.
Have you ever been in a position where you’ve been asked to lead a team, an organization, or a company, and your instinctive reaction is that you’re not ready for it? If you have, then this story from the Islamic tradition might help ease your distress: it is the story of Prophet Muhammad when he received the first revelation of the Qur’an.
On a clear night in 610 AD, deep in the mountains of Mecca, the Prophet was alone in the cave of Hira, when an angel appeared before him and squeezed him three times till he could barely breathe. The angel then told him to recite the first verses of the Qur’an and told him that he’s now the Messenger of God.
Shocked and scared, the Prophet went to his home shivering saying, “Cover me, cover me!” His wife, Khadija, comforted and listened to him, then she shared some powerful words of support reminding the Prophet that his was an excellent character and that nothing evil would befall him.
Khadija took him to her cousin Waraqa Bin Nawfal, who was a knowledgeable scholar. and the Prophet told him what had happened, and Waraqa reassured him that he was indeed the Messenger of God, but he would face difficulties from his people in the years to come.
There are several lessons from this story for the newly appointed leader who is nervous about their new role:
1. It’s OK to Fear
The fact that you feel worried, concerned, and even distressed about your new role is a good sign! This type of stress is called eustress, or good stress because it provides you with enough productive discomfort to grow and stretch yourself.
2. You Need Family Support
The first person the Prophet turned to after the encounter in the mountains was his loving wife, Khadija. This is a powerful reminder of the role that family plays in supporting your growth. Talk to your family about your new role, what it means for you and them, and what support you need from them to be successful.
3. Remember Your Strengths
Khadija reminded the Prophet of his character strengths and all the good qualities he needed to grow into this role. You were selected for the leadership position because someone or some people saw something in you that they believed made you right for it. You need to look in the mirror and remind yourself what those ingredients are.
4. Seek Expert Advice
Meet people who understand what this role entails and ask for their advice, just as the Prophet and Khadijah sought the advice of Waraqa Bin Nawfal in Mecca.
5. Get a Mentor
The Prophet was blessed with angel Jibreel (Gabriel) as a mentor to teach him the Qur’an and how to pray. Get a mentor for your role, perhaps even an executive coach. Let them give you the support you need as well as challenge you to grow into your new role.
6. Get up and Pray
One of the first verses in the Qur’an that was revealed after the first encounter with Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) was “O you who wraps himself [in clothing], Arise [to pray]” [Qur’an 73:1-2]. When you know that you’re over your head with responsibilities, seek divine assistance, and let your spiritual self-grow along with your professional self.
7. Take Your Time
Don’t expect to be the perfect leader from day one. You need time to practice a new set of skills and grow into your role. Prophet Muhammad took three years before he publicly announced to his people that he was the Messenger of God and they should follow him; he spent all that time contacting people in secret and building a network of support.
Back to the 42-year-old coaching client on the phone who told me he wasn’t ready. After an hour of coaching, he realized that it was okay to feel uncomfortable and that it shouldn’t stop him from at least exploring the role and seeking professional help to succeed in that role. He had it all in him, just like you do.
What are YOUR worst leadership fears, and what do you think you need help with? share with us in the comments.