Leadership Fear of Failure
Of all the challenges leaders face, none is more pervasive yet hidden than fear of failure.
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy
Leadership is a tough job that requires courage. Doubts, insecurities and fears make organizational challenges more difficult and, in extreme cases, insurmountable. No matter how confident you may appear, anxiety can occur at pivotal times in your career.
Fears are normal emotions that emerge in times of crisis. It’s been said that courage has no benchmark unless one grasps the reality of fear. Fears are real, often strong and quite disruptive, but your response to them defines your leadership hardiness.
Fearful leaders can debilitate their organizations’ ability to function, compromising productivity, decision-making, strategic thinking and employee management. They’re likely to experience issues in their personal lives, as well.
Organizations rely on their leaders to set a vision; provide direction; and implement plans that instill trust, confidence and the performance needed to meet desired goals. Leaders must possess strength and determination to face these challenges and overcome barriers on the way to success.
The task of managing people, with their various motivations, strengths and weaknesses, can prove daunting. Organizational dynamics, rapidly changing markets and tough competition only add to leaders’ challenges.
Even heroes have fears, to some degree. But they do what’s required despite their fears, ultimately becoming stronger in the process.
Fear of failure can sometimes be suppressed, but when this proves impossible, you can no longer ignore it. You must deal with it.
Recognize the Signs
Fear of failure has several telltale—and observable—signs. You’re likely to set your ambitions too low or too high, explains entrepreneurship expert Robert Kelsey, author of What’s Stopping You?: Why Smart People Don’t Always Reach Their Potential and How You Can (Capstone, 2012).
Goals set too low reflect a lack of self-confidence and a fear of achieving normal benchmarks, he explains in a 2012 CNN.com article.
Conversely, goals set too high serve as a mask for your insecurities. Failure is expected, as no one could possibly achieve these targets—which means there shouldn’t be any criticism. Liken it to an attempt to swim the English Channel in rough seas: No one is expected to accomplish it, so we bestow admiration on those who try, yet fail.
A second sign of fear of failure is a tendency to procrastinate as an avoidance tactic. If you can put off achieving a goal, you can also delay the dreaded failure. Look for unfounded hesitancy, second-guessing and finding “reasons” to delay or alter plans.
University of Ottawa psychologist Timothy Pychyl describes research that shows a direct inverse correlation between people’s sense of autonomy, competence, relatedness and vitality and their tendency to procrastinate in a 2009 Psychology Today article.
Other signs of fear of failure include:
- A consistent pattern of indecision
- Anxiety over risks or change
- An excessive desire or attempt to control circumstances
- An inability to delegate or trust others to perform tasks “correctly”
- Perfectionism (often leading to micromanagement)
- An overriding fear of “things going wrong”
- Obsessing over details
- Making sure everything is “just so”
Successful leaders make failure something to be grasped and managed, not feared. You and your organization will enjoy greater success when you learn to master your fear of failure.
...About Dr. Maynard Brusman
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach|
Emotional Intelligence & Mindful Leadership Workplace Expert
I coach leaders to cultivate clarity, creativity, focus, trust, and full engagement in a purpose-driven culture.
Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and executive coach. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies select and develop emotionally intelligent leaders.
For more information, please go to http://www.workingresources.com, write to email@example.com, or call 415-546-1252.