I’m sure you’ve noticed it’s Halloween, and it got me thinking about fear – the kind that can haunt even the most accomplished women in senior leadership roles.

When I started my journey as a Leadership Career Coach, little did I know that a significant part of my career would involve helping women confront their fears. It’s the pesky obstacle that prevents us from speaking up, seizing opportunities, and realizing our full potential. Over 20 years of coaching (yes, that number surprised me too!), I’ve worked with incredible women, each facing their unique set of fears.

Today, I want to share some of the most common fears I’ve encountered and help you shift from shock and horror to cool, calm, and collected.

10 Fears Holding Back Senior Women in Corporate Leadership:

1) The Boardroom Brain Freeze

We’ve all been there, fearing that moment when we’re asked a question we can’t answer, and our brain tells us we’ll look foolish if we can’t provide a good response. It’s time to embrace the power of “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Vulnerability is a strength. I’ve also noticed it’s all in how you deliver it. If you say it with confidence, you maintain your credibility, and people trust you. Keep your posture strong and deliver with ease. Clients have found that practice and having a few good statements up their sleeve really help.

2) Owning Your Impact and Results

I’ve coached some of the highest-performing women in businesses. But when they met, they weren’t receiving the credit or respect they deserved because they were actively hiding their impact. Instead of shying away from your success, own it with humility. You don’t have to be a boastful bragger, but not sharing your achievements is holding you, your team, and the business back. It’s time to get comfortable talking about yourself!

3) The Daunting Promotion

Holding back from top-level roles due to fear is a real challenge. Fear that you’re not ready or fear of the workload. If the opportunity is within reach, believe me, you’re more than ready. Nobody knows how to be a CEO until they’ve done it. There isn’t some missed school lesson that would change it. When it comes to the workload, it’s all about boundaries and support systems. Stop trying to do it all! Build a team around you at work and at home. Share the load.

4) Feedback Fallout

Many mastermind sessions have been spent on how to give feedback to the CEO or board because of the fear of repercussions. As a leader, you are part of shaping the culture. A culture that doesn’t allow people to make mistakes and resists change is doomed. A culture of openness and collaboration to solve problems is needed. I’ve found it’s all in how you frame the feedback. When the culture isn’t ready to embrace openness, present the feedback as a positive way to amplify results. Share your passion for the business and drive for success. This will help counter the nit-picky label you’re trying to avoid and show how you are a force for positive change.

5) Phobia of Losing Flexibility

New opportunities often come with fear, especially when you value your current company’s flexibility. But I’ve seen too many women held back by the notion that they’ll never find the same flexibility elsewhere. I’ve helped clients negotiate flexibility in companies with strict policies, opening doors to positive change. Do your research, know what you want, and set your boundaries. When a company values your skills, you’re in a strong position to negotiate your needs. The next company may offer something even better!

6) Confronting Bias

Calling out bias can be a tricky path to navigate. But that doesn’t mean you should let it slide. Tackling bias often requires reaching out to your allies for help. It’s always easier to be heard when there’s more than one voice. Get clear on the facts, do your research, and demonstrate the adverse business impact this will have. If there isn’t an openness to listen and change, then maybe it’s time to look elsewhere.

7) The Art of Saying No

Many clients struggle with people-pleasing, perfectionism, and even micromanaging, all fear responses. The key to overcoming them is recognizing and labeling them. They are not real; your brain is lying to you. The world will not end because you say, “No, I have many priorities that need my attention, and I can’t take on anything more right now.” Recognize it, label it, and be prepared with a response. Once my clients get the hang of saying no, they love it! They have fun with it and appreciate the time and energy they regain. You are not responsible for everyone and everything.

8) Showing Emotions

The fear of appearing weak due to showing emotions is real and alive in business today. What’s the alternative? A business of robots who don’t care? It may be worth remembering the research that shows men are more emotional at work than women; it’s just that emotions have been stereotyped as a ‘woman’ thing. If you’re afraid of crying, work on your breathing. And don’t give a care. People will get over it, and if you own it, they will likely admire your confidence.

9) The Impostor Syndrome

Battling confidence issues is a shared experience among senior leaders, and men have it too. It’s not a syndrome; it’s fear of looking stupid, failing, or being caught out. Your brain is trying to keep you safe, but nothing grows in that safe box. Thank your brain and say, “I know you’re trying to keep me safe, but it’s only a presentation (or whatever). I’ve done many before, and they’ve gone well. You can do this!”

10) The Art of Negotiation

Many women fear negotiating, fearing they’ll be seen as pushy and getting above their station. I’ve worked with leaders who’ve achieved significant boosts in their packages and promotions. They have one important tool in their kit; they’ve learned their value, impact, and potential to transform businesses. Look at what you bring to the table that nobody else does. Review your results and impact on the business bottom line and culture for the last five years. Are you telling me you don’t deserve more? I doubt it!

The world of corporate leadership is haunted by these fears, but you have the power to overcome them. Working with women on The Impactful Leader PQ Mastermind, I’ve witnessed the magic of them overcoming their fears and achieving remarkable results. The best strategies are built on support, managing your mindset, and recognizing you are not alone.

Cohort 6 is open for applications (only 2 spaces left). Email me at sineads@genwomen.global if you’d like to learn more about how I can help you and book a chat.

Happy Halloween, and may your leadership journey be fearless!