How To Lead When You’re Terrified Of Failure

The first stage of growing your business requires the basics of gaining clients, selling your services, and fulfilling your services. While new, your self-reliance makes it easier to step into the newness of the situation and build your business.

As you reach the stage of scalability, you find yourself having to rely on the efforts of others. You build your team and find that you have less control over the work. You have people looking to you for leadership, direction, and encouragement. 

The weight of those responsibilities launches you into a transition that will require you to work as much on yourself as you work on your business. Each day in your business requires you to manage opportunities, problems, and people in a new way.

In short, your business requires something new of you, which is scary. Suddenly, you are wrestling with the fear of failure as you work on leading your team and business to the next level.

Failure is learning, and learning is a necessary part of success. That makes sense intellectually, but without tools and techniques to harness yourself, it will be challenging to create an environment for success to happen.

Get fear out of the driver’s seat

After the 2015 release of Inside Out, a Pixar Film about the personification of 5 emotions, stories were shared with the creators that told of the impact the movie had on its viewers. One of the stories that emerged was of a young family at their local pool. The son, a young boy, caught the eyes of his parents as he steadily marched to the highest dive board.

His parents held their breath as they watched their child climb the ladder rung by rung to the top, walk to the edge, take a breath, and proceed to dive off into the pool below. What was so amazing about this seemingly simple, normal act? 

Their son was terrified of the high dive. Imagine being so afraid that your body launches into a shivering terror over one thing that seems so easy for others. When the little boy reached his parents, they asked, “What changed? That was amazing, but how?”

The little boy shared that when he watched the film, he realized that fear was natural and healthy, but he had allowed fear to be in the driver’s seat for too long. “I just asked fear to get out of the driver’s seat and let joy have a turn.”

Courage is not the absence of fear; it’s the ability to step through fear. Because fear is one of the most potent basic human emotions, you are not going to be able to rid yourself of fear, but you can learn to manage it.

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”  – Jack Canfield

Get it on paper

This exercise is not one to amplify your fear, but you do need to give it a name. The process of writing things by hand has an impact of pulling thoughts out of your head. When something like fear repeats over and over in your mind, it magnifies and amplifies. With this amplification, the fear grows and creates inaction because the fear seems insurmountable. Writing out the fear names it. If you name it, you can actively mitigate it.

Mitigate the Risks

“What is the worst thing that could happen?” The purpose of the question is not to find all the ways you can fail. It’s to understand what the perceived risks are. If you know what the risks are, then you can put in place watch guards and plans to reduce those risks. You can cut things off at the pass.

When you list out all of the things that could happen, you will likely find that 50% of the list is not possible or probable. 

An additional 25% of the list is more about how you fear that you’ll be perceived by others (give yourself a little grace with these). What would you say to the 10-year-old version of yourself who was about to try something new and had the same fears? You would likely extend more kindness and grace to others than you are willing to give yourself.

The remaining 25% of the list comprises risks that you can mitigate or reduce. What are the metrics you could put into place to act as an early warning system? If, in the unlikely case, these risks come to reality, what plan can you put into place?

This little exercise is more impactful than you can imagine. It puts you back in control by adopting a more strategic approach to the situation—and that’s right where you want to be.

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” – Paulo Coelho

Paint the picture

In Brene Brown’s book, ‘Dare to Lead’, she tells a story of working with company leaders who liked to ‘paint it done’ by defining your expectations, the requirements, and what success will look like. You verbally paint the picture of what ‘done’ means in your vision of success. The purpose of the exercise is to define what the end result would be so that everyone has a clear expectation of what success is.

What are your expectations of the situation? If your fear is about failure, what would be heaven? How would you feel? How would you know that you achieved success? What would your team say? What would the office sound like?

Painting the picture of success is critical to achieving success. It also helps highlight when you are on the right path.

Manage the process, not the work

When it comes to your team, the fear of failure from the business owner manifests a situation where the owner micromanages the team. A business owner can quickly become angry and frustrated with their team. In the end, the fear of failure drives the business owner into paranoia and then boom—the business owner creates the physical manifestation of what they fear.

If you find yourself headed down this road, know that it is normal. This situation is a critical place of transition for you. The key is to shift your primary focus from ‘doing the work’ to ‘getting the work done.’

For many of us, there has been a certain amount of pride and value placed on our ability to do the work, to put in the hours. If your business is going to continue to grow, you need to be able to let go of the work and find value in guiding others toward a common goal.

Trust your team to get the job done. Manage the results that you are looking to achieve and allow your team to rise to the occasion. While you will have missteps in hiring and managing your team, all these learnings create a better definition of success.

You are likely to have some bumps and scrapes along the way. When that happens, take ownership and then take positive action. Ask for grace from yourself and from your team. Your team is not looking to you for perfection. They will respect you for learning along the way while everyone in the business grows and shares in the benefit of being in it together.

How do you manage to control your fear of failure? Share your thoughts and ideas with us below!

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Ishrat Pasha 2020