Surviving the Desert of Doubt

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If you’re a leader, then there’s a good chance you’ll spend some time in the Desert of Doubt – a vast lonely place with few landmarks or signs of hope.

You’ll know that you are there when you begin asking yourself:

  • Am I on the right track?

  • Am I cut out for this?

  • Will I fail?

  • Can I trust my team?

Although there are no shortcuts, doubts and fears can be managed just like anything else. Here are a few of the survival principles I have gleaned while guiding clients through the desert:


When we anticipate something, we are able to prepare for it more effectively and exert more control over our emotions and attitudes once it occurs. I help clients to understand that doubting themselves is a normal human experience –for leaders especially. I want them to take comfort in the fact that their self-doubt is not unique, and that just as others overcame doubts, so can they.


The worst thing that someone can do in the desert is stop moving. Inaction and despondency will kill you. Sometimes a successful coaching session is just getting someone back on their feet, encouraging them enough to help them keep pushing forward.

  • One of the most powerful ways to keep someone on course is to remind them of all the preparatory work that we did getting them ready for the journey – all the tools we used and effort we put into discovering their personality, strengths, and values. After the various ways we confirmed that their vision for the future and ensured that they had the skills and the team to attain it, my clients can be certain that they did not set out on their journeys in a frivolous or naïve manner.

  •  I also like to help my clients adjust their perspectives. It is extremely easy to blow a situation out of proportion – especially when someone is stressed and overwhelmed. I like to remind them that standing at the bottom of a mountain and looking up provides a very different experience than standing far enough away to see the route to the top. Reframing problems as surmountable challenges isn’t just semantics; it is a way of transforming our experiences and situations so that we are more able to engage them.

  • One of the best ways of encouraging my clients is simply by listening to them and helping them process their experiences. It helps to know that they’re not alone. Many leaders really don’t have anyone to talk to. They’re worried about what their employees’ reactions will be if they express anxiety and confusion and are wary of burdening their spouses with work issues.

Ignoring Mirages

When people are exhausted and fearful in the Desert of Doubt, they begin to see things that don’t exist. They tend to chase after false hopes or become suspicious even when no suspicion is warranted. It is the coach’s job to help clients determine what is real and what is not, and then to continue on in the direction of the course that was charted before the journey began.

I cannot guarantee that a client will survive the Desert of Doubt. (Ultimately, their survival is a choice only they can make.) But I can guarantee that it is a place made much more bearable with a good leadership coach as a guide.


Image courtesy of “digitalart” at

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