Living with frequent fear of failure is a significant personal struggle. Even leaders experience it. While fear may not be completely eliminated, it can be overcome. A major shift in perspective is required—something with which an experienced leadership coach can assist.
Robert Kelsey, author of What’s Stopping You?: Why Smart People Don’t Always Reach Their Potential and How You Can (Capstone, 2012), offers good suggestions.
Begin by recognizing that no one is immune to failure. It happens to everyone. Coming to grips with fear, understanding that it’s real and knowing if it’s affecting your leadership (and life) are steps in the right direction. Fear is not always bad. Healthy fears allow us to respect and remain aware of potential hazards.
But many fears are unhealthy, including the fear of failure. It’s perfectly OK—and, in fact, advisable—to name it for what it is and devise strategies for dealing with it. It’s admirable to watch someone admit a fear and make the decision to address it. It’s painful to watch someone deny or hide behind a fear, allowing it to take over. Such fears are seldom secret. Others see you struggle, so hiding behind a fear doesn’t work.
Another positive shift in perspective is recognizing that people survive failures all the time. Failure is really not the black cloud some believe it to be. It’s rarely the final blow. Life goes on. If you worry about other people judging you, your fears are likely overblown. Everyone has experienced failure at one time or another, so it tends to make us less critical of others.
Failure actually has intrinsic benefits. We learn and grow through failing. Wisdom, work ethic, strength and self-improvement are seldom attributable to a continued string of successes. There’s no better way to discover your strengths and weaknesses than through failure’s lessons. People admire humility and openness, which engender trust.
And while we’re on the subject, what exactly is a “failure”? Is setting out to achieve a worthy goal, applying your best efforts and coming up short the true definition? How does this compare to someone who does nothing or gives less than his best effort? Most of us would agree: Failure is the act of not trying, giving up or not caring. Perspective is everything.