Fear of failure is a universal human emotion that can impact individuals at all levels of an organization. Whether you’re a leader steering the ship or an employee navigating your career, the fear of failure can be a formidable obstacle to success. 

In this guide, we will explore strategies to overcome this fear, drawing inspiration from Gifford Thomas’s book, “The Inspirational Leader: Inspire Your Team To Believe In The Impossible.” As Thomas aptly states, “Unfortunately, if you fear failure as a leader, your comfort zone will give you all the reasons to settle for a life far below your God-given potential.”

Understand the Fear of Failure

Before delving into strategies for overcoming the fear of failure, it’s essential to understand why it exists in the first place. The fear of failure often stems from a deep-seated desire for success, acceptance, and the avoidance of disappointment. It can be paralyzing, preventing individuals from taking risks, pursuing opportunities, and realizing their full potential.

Failure is a lack of success. Since the definition of success can vary from person-to-person, the term “failure” can also range in meaning. If you fear failure, sit down and evaluate what’s behind the mask of fear. For example, this might look like actually being afraid of disappointing your team or not being able to financially provide for your family. Get curious about what your real fear is and develop a plan for overcoming it.

Ask the following questions:

  • What drives your fear of failure?
  • Why does it scare you?
  • How do your body and mind react to failure?
  • What can you do to alleviate feelings of anxiety and stress?
  • Why is it important to pick yourself up after a setback?
  • Who is there to support you when you fall?
  • When you fail, how can you shift toward a positive outcome? 

Answering these questions outlines a game plan for recognizing when it seems you’re failing and why. Create a five-step strategy for handling the moments you think you’re not succeeding.

11 Strategies To Overcome Fear Of Failure

1. Embrace a Growth Mindset

Gifford Thomas’s words remind us that our comfort zones are the breeding grounds for fear. To combat this, adopt a growth mindset. Understand that failure is not a dead-end but a stepping stone to growth and improvement. Leaders and employees should encourage themselves and their teams to view failure as an opportunity to learn and adapt.

2. Set Realistic Expectations

Setting unrealistic expectations can intensify the fear of failure. Leaders and employees should establish achievable goals and milestones. While it’s essential to aim high, ensure that the bar is set at a level where success is possible with effort and dedication.

3. Set Challenging Goals

Comfortability can breed more fear and resistance that hinders innovation and creativity. One of the best ways to get over fear is to confront it head-on with challenging, attainable goals. While you don’t want to set yourself up for failure, begin branching outside-of-the-box to help you adjust to increasingly difficult goals. For example, this might look like setting a goal to double the deals you close over Q1. During the next quarter, keep up this progress by tripling the initial number of closed deals during Q2. To help yourself succeed, work through a goal-setting process that allows for the achievement of objectives that push your usual boundaries. Implement a strong goal setting strategy by making SMART goals, which includee making them specific, measured, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

4. Use Visualization

There’s a reason people are fearful when there is a lack of visual stimuli. For example, this might look like fear of entering a dark cave or swimming in open water. As explained in an article written by Andrew Tarantola for Gizmodo, “For a large portion of humanity’s early days, we were far from the top of the food chain. Our ancestors quickly learned that many predators prefer the cover of darkness to hunt and ovetime, that association strengthened into a subconscious absolute: stay out of the dark because that’s where the danger is.” When we can’t see where we’re going, the body and mind naturally become stressed.

Preparing for success and failure through visualization is a strategy that makes us feel less in the dark—“where the danger is.” It helps us see where we’re going and alleviates anxiety caused by the unknown. Even if failure does occur, mapping out potential outcomes allows leaders to develop a strategy to pivot and avoid a significant loss. In short, visualization illuminates the path to goal achievement.

5. Use the Power of Positive Thinking

Shifting the ways you think about failure can alter its meaning. When we see failure as defeat, it does defeat us. However, viewing failure as an opportunity to learn equips us to get back up again with insight on how to move forward. Thomas Eidson was a champion of doing so. He once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Positive thinking kept him pushing toward innovation and invention.

6. Cultivate Emotional Regulation and Resilience

Emotional regulation and emotional resilience allow you to calmly address situations and bounce back from setbacks and failures. Leaders can inspire their teams by demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity. Encourage employees to develop their resilience by emphasizing the importance of perseverance, adaptability, and maintaining a positive outlook.

7. Foster a Supportive Environment

Leaders play a crucial role in creating an environment where employees feel safe to take calculated risks. Encourage open communication, constructive feedback, and the sharing of ideas. When employees know that their leaders support them and are willing to help them learn from their mistakes, the fear of failure becomes less daunting.

8. Learn from Failure

Gifford Thomas’s book emphasizes the importance of learning from failure. Leaders and employees should engage in post-failure analysis. What went wrong? What can be done differently next time? Encourage a culture of continuous improvement, where every setback is an opportunity to refine strategies and approaches.

9. Celebrate Small Wins

Success doesn’t always have to be monumental. Recognize and celebrate small wins along the way. This not only boosts morale but also helps individuals and teams build confidence and gradually overcome the fear of failure.

10. Seek Inspiration and Guidance

Leaders and employees can find inspiration and guidance from mentors, books like “The Inspirational Leader,” or through networking with individuals who have faced and conquered their fear of failure. Hearing stories of others’ journeys can provide valuable insights and motivation.

11. Focus on What You Can Control

Failure can feel like surrendering total control over your life. But, panic and emotionally driven decision-making only add fuel to the fire. The truth is, there are still a variety of factors you can control that will help change the overall outcome of an error or mishap. For instance, you’re still in control of your thoughts, words, and actions. Take a minute to observe the situation and identify at least three areas you have control over. How can you use these to make a difference? Give yourself space to pause for a moment and think about how to drive a better outcome.

The fear of failure is a formidable opponent, but it can be conquered. Leaders and employees alike must remember that failure is not the end of the road but a stepping stone towards growth and success. As Gifford Thomas reminds us, fearing failure can prevent us from reaching our full potential. Embracing a growth mindset, setting realistic expectations, cultivating resilience, fostering a supportive environment, learning from failure, celebrating small wins, and seeking inspiration are all vital steps on the journey to overcoming this fear. By following these strategies, leaders can inspire their teams to believe in the impossible and achieve greatness beyond their wildest dreams.

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Article by Rick Mayo, Alloy CEO and Founder

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