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Effective leadership behaviors don’t always come naturally.

When I was around 30 years old, I got the opportunity of a lifetime. 

I was working in private practice as a mental health counselor in Albuquerque, NM and had been since graduating college. I’d never worked in the business world, never had employees or a traditional boss. For seven years I’d done nothing other than sit in my therapist chair.

Suddenly, I found myself presented with the opportunity to run a business. Not just any business, but one with an exclusive list of Fortune 100 clients. That’s right, all of our clients were Fortune 100 mega-corporations like UPS, AT&T, American Airlines, and the NASDAQ Stock Exchange. 

Why hire a therapist with zero business experience to be the General Manager of an engineering firm with the most demanding clientele in the world?

There were two reasons:

1) I knew the Founder’s life coach. That was my foot in the door. 2) The Founder was an extraordinarily difficult person. He’d gone through for GM’s in the previous two years. Employee retention was in the toilet. No one could deal with this guy. 

They justified hiring me in spite of being a business newbie because my communication skills were uncommonly high. The thinking was that I was uniquely qualified to handle the crazy CEO while shielding the staff from his legendary inappropriateness. 

If you had asked me at the commencement of this job about my leadership skills, I would have come across as confident enough, but not too confident. All would have seemed quite well!

Two weeks into the new job, with my therapy practice shut down, I woke up at 3 AM in a cold sweat. Sitting up in bed, I wondered what the matter was. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. 

I simply could NOT do this!

I wish I could adequately communicate the sense of dread that I began to carry from that moment forward. Dread at going to work. Dread at dealing with employees. Panic at the thought of leading another staff meeting. 

Panic. As in panic attack.

You know, the shortness of breath, cold sweating, and utter sense of helplessness? Try leading a robust staff while you’re walking around in that kind of state. 

I still don’t know how I pulled it off. But I did. I lasted two years before a new opportunity came. I left on good terms and, to this day, consider my time at The Uptime Institute / Computersite Engineering to be one of the more valuable learning experiences of my adult life. 

A Highly-Trained Therapist with Runaway Anxiety

Anxiety is anxiety. When you feel utterly helpless to do what you need to do, anxiety is your constant companion. How did I handle this mess? 

One day at a time. 

How Leaders Can Grow, Regardless of the Starting Point

It doesn’t matter where you’re at. You can grow beyond it. In my case, I felt helpless, insecure and full of panic each and every day for the better part of a year. All the while, I was traveling the country, interacting with high-powered execs from the leading companies on the planet. 

What’s the point of this post? 

It’s normal for leaders, especially new ones, to feel inept. 

If you find a way to grit through it, you’ll grow. One day, you’ll find your confidence again. You may need to get a good executive coach along the way!

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