The Fear of Failure Makes You Small
The paralyzing fear of failure makes you small.
Fear of failure prevents you from trying new things. If you aren’t certain of success, you won’t begin. If you can’t do it well, you won’t try.
Moderate levels of fear make you alert, but excessive fear makes you stupid. One of three instincts takes over when fear rules.
Fear of failure is imagining all the negative things that might happen if you try and don’t succeed.
- Embarrassment and lost respect. What will people think?
- Job termination.
- Financial loss.
- Others lose their livelihood because the company fails.
Innovation and creative problem-solving come to an end when fear rules the kingdom.
Go for it:
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” Steve Jobs
Three ways to help people overcome fear of failure:
#1. Explain what YOU learned from failure. The great gift of failure is learning, if you keep trying after falling short.
(Amy Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organization.)
Make it safe to fail responsibly by telling people about your failures.
If you are a leader who never fails, the people around you will play it safe.
#2. Courage is a product of the people around us.
“Courage comes from the courage of others around us. When you meet people with courage, it gives you courage. When somebody believes in you, that gives you courage.”
“I’ve been very lucky that I’ve met some amazing people who have much more courage than I.” Simon Sinek interview:
(Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last.)
#3. Define failure. It helps to know what you’re afraid of. Name it. What will happen if you fail?
How do incompetent leaders feed the fear of failure in others?
How might leaders make it safe to fail responsibly?
Dan, what’s the answer when the five bad things do happen when you fail? Steve Jobs obviously didn’t care because he was basically a fairly reprehensible human being, but for normal people who need to not have a reputation for getting stuff wrong or actually need their paycheck?
Thanks Mitch. Great question. Let’s face, many organizations punish failure and shoot their wounded. We’ll never know how much talent is wasted because people were afraid to bring their best selves to work.
Fear is best mastered by KNOWING you are dead already … at least once … but then finding that you are not. Near death experiences promote true situational awareness, without emotion and without over-rationalization (the fountainhead of fear and anxiety).
Anticipate the worst (consciously, deliberately), but be faithful for the best (without worrying it too much).
Those who value safety and security over liberty (to act) deserve none.
Thanks Rurbane. The idea that comes to mind is coming to the realization that failure is not the end of the world. Life goes on.
If we promote failure we created the mass turmoil. We have to start with proper qualified individuals who are up to the tasks they are performing. If they are uncertain then we need to guide them. There will come a time that they will not need assistance “Experience” is the result of guided instruction promoting them to think and do. Granted if they are educated individuals qualified for their tasks then the project runs it self, they are already qualified to do the project.
Thanks Tim. Your comment brings to mind the importance of responsible failure. Put the right people on the bus and get them in the right seat and watch them perform. But, they will screw up. What we do then, has a huge impact on how they view failure. Is it a learning experience or is it a punishable offense.
We correct the error with verbal warning and guidance if need be.
Repeated mistakes may require harsher penalties, come down to Tolerance and forgiveness, since we all make mistakes!
Thanks for bring another great idea my way. I have pre-ordered Amy’s book.
Thanks Robertona. I hope you enjoy Amy’s book as much as I did,. Cheers
Re: “Courage”: I have long thought that one of the most fulfilling things about effective leadership is the aspect of literally encouraging – “giving courage”- to others. To free others from fear we must first control our own, and for me this has usually boiled down to (1) confidence that the goal was worth the risk, and (2) commitment to “fail forward” and keep trying if we initially fell short of the original goal. Edmondson’s book sounds like a keeper!
Thanks Jim. Love the idea that “encourage” is to “give courage” to someone. Let’s face it. People with courage will be more creative, committed, and productive. They will dare to try, dare to bring their best selves to work.
Great post! People learn more from failure than from success. If a leader has failed (and most have), then don’t be afraid to tell employees that failure is part of the process that leads to success. Competent and confident leaders understand that being vulnerable can be a valuable tool to use when circumstances dictate it.
Thanks Daryl. You remind me of something John Maxwell said when I asked him what he learned from success. He said, “Not as much as I’ve learned from failure.”
On of my favorite leaders had a saying with his staff. “Fail fast, fix it, and move on.” He gave his staff permission up front, to make mistakes. Preferably, the mistakes were early in the project when the stakes are still low. He also expected them to learn quickly and seek their own solutions whenever reasonable to do so.
I’m glad to see more leadership conversation about courage and the fight-flight stress response. I look forward to reading Amy’s book. Back in February you posted about The Courage Way, a book I wrote for the Center for Courage & Renewal. I found that FLOCK is a 4th stress response (which can be either community building or ‘us vs. them’). FORTIFY is always available as an alternative response, and that leads to courage. Trust is one of those things leaders can and must fortify to create a fearless work environment. That’s because courage doesn’t just come out of nowhere — it comes from developing a culture where we can trust in ourselves (to try and fail and learn), trust in each other that we’re in it together, and trust in the idea of paradox. There is a both/and to life that leaders can model. We can succeed at purpose AND profit with integrity, if we have fortified ourselves through self-awareness and trust. https://leadershipfreak.blog/2018/02/07/want-to-develop-courage-improve-your-relational-trust/
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