SELF is the critical success factor of my work as an executive coach and operations consultant. Most clients strive for goals that have to do with elements external to them. Once the layers start being peeled off, through more in-depth reflection and increased self-awareness, the focus on SELF becomes the foundation for being able to achieve goals and highest potential.

SELF has everything to do with our ability to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled. Self may have to do with good and not so good; the ups and downs of what we face through our lives. One definition of SELF is “a person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action.”

SELF is the one thing we can say that has got to do with the choices and decisions we make as to how we want to show up as a person, and as a leader, in any capacity, we want to. SELF has to do with our willingness to have intention and attention to how we want to live our lives, not a walk in the park. Not paying attention and being intentional about SELF is difficult, challenging, and it will take us out of our comfort zone and question the status quo.

There are some common challenges that, as women, we face, which have a lot to do with Self. When we focus on Self, we can leverage our strengths to overcome what gets in our way – we ensure we have the foundation ready and available to build any structure on it.

  • Being Treated Equally — Self-Worth
  • Taking Care of Self — Self-Care
  • Being Confident — Self-Confidence
  • Overcoming Perfectionism — Self-Awareness

Now let’s look at how SELF can impact our ability to not only transform ourselves but also when we want to lead change or transformations in organizations. For leaders to succeed in their transformation efforts, for themselves, for their companies, and for and their teams, they must decide to choose fear or courage? Here is what I would ask you to ponder, the fear of making the change and failing versus the consequences of not making the change and losing the opportunities to have a future.

Let’s talk about fear. Fear is quite common, and we have heard and known about it since before we were born. Some people feel comfortable acknowledging it, some will not admit it, some will decide to confront it, while some to run from it.

The term ‘fight-or-flight’ represents the choices that our ancient ancestors had when faced with danger in their environment. They could either fight and deal with a threat or flee to run away to safety. In either case, the physiological and psychological response to stress prepares the body to react to the danger.

Fear starts with a thought which turns into an unpleasant emotion, caused by what we learn from the beginning of our life, and it becomes a limiting belief. Bravery is the opposite of fear; it is a courageous behavior or character. Bravery does not mean having any fear; it means feeling the fear and having the courage to do it anyway. You can’t be brave without fear. If you weren’t afraid, you wouldn’t have to be brave. Nelson Mandela, who represents the epitome of being courageous, had one of the best definitions of courage “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

From my experience, I want to share the types of fear that inhibit progress in the digital transformation space, and these same ones do apply to other transformations, including our personal one:

  1. Fear of repercussions. Many leaders get concerned about the future of work and what the impact for the people will be. There are many actions a company can take to manage this issue and see it as an opportunity to upskill and reskill the workforce to give them the new required skills and get them ready to perform differently and continuously better.
  2. Fear of criticism. Given the amount of pressure that gets put on leaders to do the transformation, one of the main concerns for them is how much criticism they will get if things do not result “as planned.” Moreover, the reality is that facing criticism is part of being a leader. John Maxwell says, remove the YOU from failure, achievers do not see themselves as the failure and don’t take things personally, they look at their options, and bounce back.
  3. Fear of failure. Digital transformation is scary because technology is changing at an unprecedented pace; there is pressure for companies to “just do it,” investment is needed. The workforce must have the necessary skills. It is essential to be willing to experiment, fail, readjust, and try again. Maxwell says to learn a new definition of failure, “failure is part of the equation to achieve success.” If we embrace that definition, we are more willing to move ahead.
  4. Fear of responsibility. Fear of failure stops progress and makes us reluctant to accept responsibility for things that take us out of our comfort zone. Taking responsibility for the necessary actions to move forward gives us the courage to make progress and reduce anxiety.
  5. Fear of communicating. At the top of the charts, when it comes to the fear’s hierarchy, communication is essential to leadership, and more so when envisioning a significant transformation. A leader championing a digital transformation needs to communicate the vision, the strategy, and plan to engage the organization and get their buy-in. Important to note, communication is not only about speaking; it is about listening, actively listening.

Approaches to Overcome Challenges:

  • Flip the Challenge into a Goal
  • Identify Strategies and Actions that move you towards the goal
  • Identify Obstacles that may potentially move you away from the goal
  • Identify Resources necessary to achieve the goal

As an example of how to use this approach to overcome challenges, think about the Self Confidence goal of Leading with No Fear. The Strategies may include to:

  • Be clear on your purpose
  • Leverage strengths
  • Take risks
  • Share your voice and perspectives

The potential obstacles to anticipate and plan for:

  • People try to take you off “your game”
  • Self-doubt (that Self again)
  • Imposter syndrome

There are multiple resources you can lean towards to support you achieve the goal; some of my go-to ones are:

  • Have your board of directors
  • Take a strengths assessment
  • Books that increase your comfort to be uncomfortable

In the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) business world we are living in, the first step is for each leader to go through a transformation themselves – that is where the uncomfortable feelings are, and this is what I’ve learned; it is the secret sauce. It is one of the reasons why many companies have not decided to embark on the journey or have not been successful at it. A company can have a mandate from the board of directors, an edict from the CEO, or a line on the earnings calls that says – we are doing a digital transformation. If the leaders are not engaged to learn and embrace what it takes from them to make it happen, it will not happen.

How to choose courage over fear to lead There are four phases that a leader should navigate to be ready to lead a transformation of any kind, including self-transformation.

  1. Internalization – A leader needs to be vulnerable by acknowledging the fear, find ways to take action to reduce stress and seek the appropriate support. Consider the following questions: what should I/We start doing? What should I/We stop doing? What should I/We do differently?
  2. Preparation – A leader needs to gain the knowledge to become a believer in the transformation; this is where continuous learning plays a significant role for the leader to dream what is possible and make the decision to act. A leader also needs to evaluate all the activities, initiatives, and programs that the organization has. Consider the following questions: what should I/We keep?, what should I/We eliminate? What should I/We combine? What should I/We delay?
  3. Experimentation – A leader needs to communicate, communicate, and communicate; get involved in the change, and be willing to run tests experiments and have the patience not to expect immediate results. Consider the following questions: What options do we have? What would be the best experiment to run? What potential obstacles will we face? What do we expect to accomplish? How will we measure success?
  4. Evaluation – A leader needs to measure the results to celebrate victories and appreciate failures. It is imperative to capture the lessons to be learned and make the necessary adjustments. Consider the following questions: what did we learn? How do results compare to expectations? What needs to be adjusted? How will we replicate this experience?

Some final reflection questions, do YOU choose fear or courage? Do YOU prioritize SELF? SELF is got everything to do with the choices and decisions YOU make.

I dedicate my services to engage as a collaborative partner to help leaders and organizations figure out how to be successful and achieve the highest potential. To learn more, go to

Alba Contreras Rodriguez is owner and president of FonS (Focus on Solution), LLC. FonS provides executive coaching and operations consulting across automotive, healthcare, technology, government, banking, utilities, and non-profit. She works with leaders and organizations to excel and enable digital transformation, focused on human readiness for technology adoption. Alba spent her career in Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and KPMG management consulting; gaining extensive international and global experience. Alba has served on non-profit boards and has founded and co-chaired programs for women and minorities.