Fear of Failure – while taking on leadership initiatives


Fear of failure - leadership

Fear of failure – leadership

In our survey analysis, fear of failure came across as the biggest factor in deterring someone from taking up challenging initiatives as a leader.

Generally people tend to settle down into a zone of comfort.  Taking up a leadership initiative is equivalent to stepping out of the comfort zone.  One has to plan, communicate, execute, review, course-correct and manage other team members.  All this requires strength of mind, character and conviction.

Thoughts of “what if I fail” tend to surface throughout the process.  Failure would bring embarrassment, dent confidence and harm one’s image.  Therefore, it is much easier to stay in the zone of comfort and not take up anything outside the ordinary.

Interestingly, fear of failure is also conjoined by fear of success.  Fear of success relates to being uncomfortable again.  Once successful, one has to now manage higher expectations, different challenges, greater workload and again a different set of people.

There are a few questions that one should ask when an opportunity to lead a project, a team or a challenging initiative presents itself:

1. Is this something I’d like to do or enjoy doing? (It is a bad idea to be very good at doing something that you won’t enjoy at all)

2. When I succeed, while this enhance my experience, knowledge or personal qualities and put me on the path towards my long-term goals? (This will ensure you are not taking on something that is totally out of line with what you are aspiring to achieve)

3. Is this the next one or few steps higher than what I am currently doing?  (To ensure you do not make too high a leap, but progress gradually)

4. Have I done this kind of thing before and have resources and past experiences I can draw upon?  (It becomes easier if you have past successes and experiences to leverage)

5. Am I ready for this thing at this time? (To ensure that you are well-positioned to make the sacrifices needed for the new project.  As Seth Godin famously points out, “Halfway up Everest, it makes no sense to have a discussion about climbing K2 instead”)

Most challenges will not be exactly like what you have done before.  There will always be an element of uncertainty or ambiguity associated.  And conquering those and leading the team to success is what the satisfaction will be all about.

In another post we will talk about some steps and techniques to move out of one’s comfort zone and begin taking up challenges that will help realize one’s full potential.

Related readings:

In this post Susan Ward talks about conquering the fear while starting one’s own business.  Starting a business is taking a huge leap towards a leadership initiative that is full of uncertainties and risk.


Stuart Cross talks about systemic organizational procedures that indicate a risk-averse culture.


Here’s a very short post on how to leverage past experience in conquering fear


Please share your thoughts on this interesting topic using the comments section below.

Image:(c) Wikipedia.org.  Author: unknown (uncredited photographer)