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As business leaders we often set personal and business goals each year that define what we want to accomplish. Once these goals are achieved there is often a sense of achievement but this may be short lived because we do not seem to have moved forward towards our vision.

Through my own reflection and in speaking with clients I realize that it is a fear of failure that often holds us back from setting stretch goals that will move us forward. Taking a chance can be risky as there is a fear of failure; it is this fear that limits our ability to achieve success. A key part of leadership development is to overcome fear of failure. You may have everything needed to be successful at a task, job, project; the right attitude, the aptitude to get the task done, the vision and altitude, the fortitude but despite all of these “right” things the fear of failure can at times be an overwhelming obstacle.

The fear of failure for some people is so great that they never take a chance or try something new – if this fear severely inhibits daily life, one may have “Atychiphobia” – an intense fear of failure where one may subconsciously undermine their own efforts so that they no longer have to continue to try to take a chance (Williams, Glen. “Atychiphobia – Fear of Failure.” E Home Fellowship Help With Life.) – overcoming this is beyond the scope of this blog and I would recommend seeking professional support if you feel that your fear of failure is severe.

In your workplace has your fear of failure stopped you from achieving something that you want? Are you afraid to ask for that mentoring meeting with a Vice President for fear of what he or she may say or think? Are you nervous about asking for a change in work hours? Are you afraid to speak with a colleague about his or her performance or actions? A way to look at this is that this is a fear of outcome, rather than a fear of failure – you may not get the response you want and then “now what?”

There are many examples of how multiple failures have led to success (Thomas Edison failed over 1000 times in invention of the light bulb, J.K. Rowling failed many times with having her Harry Potter books published, etc.) but these famous examples are not the focus as it can be hard for us to relate to them. Rather the focus here is that failures and mistakes need to occur in our personal and professional lives in order to achieve our altitude and our success; failing is part of professional leadership development. It is how one prepares for and manage these failures that shows the strength of leadership.

These fears may come from the following:

  • The challenge with handling the emotions that come with failing – embarrassment, guilt, vulnerability
  • Lack of self-confidence – “What will others think if I fail?”  “How will I cope with my reputation being tarnished?”  “I may get rejected!”
  • Dealing with the set back – “I put in so much effort and now it is all gone to waste”

Take a moment to think if any of the above points apply to you.

5 Tips To Help Overcome Fear of Failure in the Workplacesuccess diagram

1. Build up tolerance for failure – take ‘mini’ chances/risks to build up tolerance

2. Understand that importance of failure and learning from failure – Realize the success in ‘surviving’ a failure and celebrate the learnings from the failure. This will help you re-frame how you look at   failure. Look at the process that led to the failure rather than focusing on the outcome of failure.

3. Do not let the failure define you – most failures are brief occurrences with limited consequences and the failure is an isolated event that does not define you as a leader or a person.

4. Take educated risks that are well thought out – your tolerance for failure and risk can be built up by taking small risks with minimal consequences if you fail until you feel you are able to manage larger risks.

5. Change how you think about failure – focus on the benefits and rewards of failure rather than the consequences. This will take time and is a great way to build self-confidence.

To overcome fear of failure is not easy, it can take years of building up tolerance, changing how you look at failure, and supporting others when they fail. As leaders we will make mistakes and fail, and to develop as a leader we will learn and grow from these failures. We will realize that being vulnerable supports our humility and gives us the courage to take on larger risks. This will often lead to gaining greater respect from your peers and colleagues and to the achievement of stretch goals and your vision.