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“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” – Abraham Lincoln
A few weeks ago, around Remembrance Day, I came across a portrait taken on the morning of the D-day landings. It pictures an army Regimental Sergeant Major standing courageously while those around him cowered in fear as they try to find cover from the bullets raining down on them. Undoubtedly, he was fearful, but his body language portrays something else entirely. He is seen calling his troops to come with him into battle; without knowing what the eventual outcome will be, and with the odds clearly against them.
Failure Is Not An Option
The aura of confidence around this leader, bravely leading his troops on showed that for him failure is not an option. He made a decision to keep moving forward, regardless of the uncertainty of the situation. Leadership is a challenging job that involves nerves, insecurities, and doubts which makes it really difficult to overcome organizational challenges.
Most leaders usually label the words “Failure” and “Fear” as a weakness, doing all they can to hide their fears and explain their failures away instead of confronting them and learning from it. However, keep in mind that these words are not bad in themselves, instead it is how an individual chooses to cope with them that determines its effect on their life and career. A soldier does not cower in fear, rather they learn to manage their fears and turn it into an ally and not their adversary. Fear is inherently human and does not mean that you are not competent. It is important to realize that fear is a warning sign that must be understood and addressed not ignored or hidden.
In my experience, the greatest fear possessed by leaders is the fear of failure. Most times, it’s often this fear of failure that determines how much risk a business person will take and how successful (or not) they are likely to become. The truth is that life will become easier to navigate once you learn to view fear of failure as a healthy part of life and evolvement. In fact, a life devoid of failure could mean that an individual is not pushing, stretching, growing or developing. Putting this simply; if I’m not failing, then I’m not trying. I’ve read somewhere; “the thing about a comfort zone is, it’s a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there”.
Show me a leader that has never failed in business, and I’ll say the leader is either new in business or has not tried hard enough. If managed effectively failure can be the best experimental learning tool. Failure can be a critical tool in your journey to success.
Managing Fear of Failure
The fear of failure can be restraining – it can cause us to do nothing, and therefore immobilizes us. Whether you believe it or not, the fear of failure has very little to do with our ability, but everything to do about our perception and mindset. Fears can be crippling and quite disruptive, but the way we respond to it defines our leadership resilience.
As pointed out earlier, most leaders I work with usually don’t admit to fear of failure, out of concern that others will perceive them as weak. However, if not managed, fear of failure can have a detrimental effect on the organization. Fearful leaders can limit their organization’s ability to function at the optimum, compromising on productivity, strategic thinking, decision making, and employee engagement/management.
Furthermore, such leaders will likely experience problems in their personal lives as well. Leaders are expected to set goals, provide direction to achieve the set goals and implement plans to and strategies to develop the trust, confidence and performance levels to meet the desired goals. For leaders to achieve this, we must possess determination and strength. Admittedly, managing people with different weaknesses, strengths and motivations can be extremely daunting. Additionally, the rapidly changing organizational dynamics, competition and changing markets also adds to a leader’s challenges.
Doing our possible best, despite setbacks ultimately makes us stronger and more effective as a leader. We can sometimes suppress the fear of failure, however it’s important not to ignore it. So, let’s examine some of the practical steps that leaders can take to get over our fear of failure and start conquering our goals.
Focus on things within your control.
One of the reasons why failure scares the heck out of us is that we give our all to ensure everything goes according to plan and we can still fail. And when that happens, we tend to resort to coercion and control tactics. It’s basically out of our control, and that is enough to drive even the most prepared of leader crazy! However, to overcome the fear of failure, focus on what is within your control. Focus on your vision, values, mission, strategy, and processes. Keep your thoughts clearly fixed on success, and not on possible failure. This clarity of thought will take you where you want to go.
Develop Your Sense of Competence
There are times we all experience the feeling of incompetence – feeling that we’re not qualified to be doing what we are currently doing. But if it happens constantly, then you likely have a competence issue that’s contributing to your fear of failure. A study found out that individuals that exhibited both a high sense of competency and fear of failure handled tasks efficiently despite the uncertainty of the end result. Therefore, a high sense of competence is seen as an antidote for the fear of failure. To become highly competent, endeavor to expand your pool of knowledge, this will not only help in your business, but in several other areas of life. Remember that feeling competent is an effective approach for overcoming the fear of failure. Ask yourself, “is this fact or feelings?”
It is Not All or Nothing
It’s not the amount of times that you’ve failed that matters, all that matters is for you to be right once. Most times we tie our sense of worth to the outcome of a single thing. We reason that if this fails, then it’s all over. As a result, we are scared of what will happen if we fail. Remember Thomas Edison, in his quest to find the right material for the light bulb, he tried more than 6,000 materials until he discovered just the right one. Often times we are just one decision/attempt away from the right one, the best one, the next big breakthrough. If he had viewed all the previous attempts as all or nothing, Edison would’ve given up much earlier. He realized that success is actually made up of a series of failures, eventually leading to the right outcome. So, whether it’s your first attempt at something or your 1000thattempts, keep in mind that it’s not all or nothing, but simply one more stepping stone on your path towards getting closer to where you want to be.
Don’t allow fear of failure to limit you. Most fears are simply self-imposed, and rarely are based on facts. Learn to view failure as stepping stones to future successes. We often feel like success is this one small dot on the map of life/business success and everything else is failure. What if failure is simply the one small dot of not trying or making any attempts towards our goals, and success is truly the journey and all the million little pieces of steps along the way…? Stay focused, leverage your fears, and take action. Cheers to your continued success which is all within your reach!