Fear Of Failure: The Poison Is The Medicine

Fear of failure is less important than what you do with it. 

By Brent Filson - 7/2010

Remember when you tackled a really tough leadership challenge and wondered if you could pull it off?  Maybe you more than just “wondered” ... maybe you had a bad case of fear-of-failure-itis.

Throughout your career, you’ve probably feared failure many times.  In fact, if you haven’t,  you may not be a leader — or at least leader who’s tackled big challenges.   For fear-of-failure is the living breath of leadership.

The fear itself is not the issue.  Most leaders have — or should have — a healthy fear of failure.  The issue is how to deal with it. 

One way is to apply a repeatable process.  When fear-of-failure strikes, take these steps. 

Step One: Recognize that fear-of-failure is a natural part of leadership.  Give it no more importance than it deserves.  Mind you, without experiencing fear-of-failure, you may not come to a heightened urgency of thought and action required to get the needed results.  However, once fear-of failure prevents you from productively thinking things through or from taking required action, it’s time to run this process. 

Step Two: Identify the root cause of the fear.  Imagine the precise words and actions that will lead to failure.  For instance, your organization wants to go to the mountain, but people fear it is too far, too high, too daunting.  Still, you must lead them there.  To do so, you must deal with fear-of-failure — in yourself and in others.

Talk with them (and yourself?) about how precisely they see failing.  Do they feel they won’t be supported in their efforts or that the mountain is too far away or they will be set up to fail?  Identify precise words and actions. 
Step Three: Select one or several of the key factors you identified.  See those factors as specific problems to be solved.  Bring specific solutions to the problems.

For instance, they fear they won’t be supported in their trek to the mountain.  Tell them how you’ll support them.  Or better yet, have them tell you how the need to be supported.  Bringing a solution to the problem of their fear uses fear in a positive way.

This process clarifies fear and transforms it from an often dismaying emotion to a concrete problem calling for practical solutions.

When fear-of-failure afflicts, don’t shun it.  Use it.  Turn the poison into the medicine.


7/2010© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"