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Why Overcoming Fear of Failure is the Key to Influential Leadership

Updated: May 21, 2019

Paralyzed by a fear of failure, the manager refuses to veer from the “tried and true” way of doing things.

When there are hundreds of thousands of dollars are on the line, fear of failure can hold a person back from realizing their fullest potential. It can confine a person to the safety of their comfort zone, limit opportunities, and curb earning potential. If you stick to a daily routine that varies very little, you may be a victim of fear of failure without even knowing it. Here are a few signs that fear of failure could be holding you back:

• You hate new things; adapting to new situations/challenges paralyzes or panics you.

• You tend to procrastinate, not follow-through, or feel overly anxious about goals.

• You don’t have a high opinion of yourself or your abilities.

• You must perform every task flawlessly.

Why Failure is a Good Thing

Much of fear of failure stems from a concern of how we will be perceived by others: “We … aren’t necessarily afraid of ‘failure’ or ‘making a mistake.’ We’re afraid of public embarrassment,” explains Jon Loomer (Facebook Marketing Coach, Author, Speaker & Strategist). However, failure is an important part of the learning process. While the victories are always great, it’s the valuable lessons we experience from the mistakes that stay with us. “It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” -- Bill Gates

Embracing failure permits us to experiment with new approaches. We may discover a better technique or strategy, or we may confirm that we’re already performing as efficiently as possible. It opens the door to out-of-the-box thinking, creative solutions, and bold concepts.

Failure can also be a tool of self-enlightenment. Through failure, you’ll realize how much inner strength you have, what inspires you, and gain essential insights about skills you need to improve.

So, How Do We Get Past Our Fear of Failure to Reach an Enlightened World of Learning and Growth?

1. Understand your fear. Put a label on it. What is the root of your fear? What is it you are afraid will happen? Remember fear is short-lived. Once you fail or triumph, the fear will vanish.

2. Visualize all the possible results. The good and the bad. Sometimes our fear stems from the fact that we don’t know what to expect. Think about all the things that could go wrong and the worst-case scenarios. Then think of all the things that could go right.

3. Start small. By focusing on more modest goals that are achievable, you can build your confidence up with these “stepping stone” accomplishments. This activity can keep you moving forward toward the primary purpose and break things down into manageable pieces so that the whole isn’t overwhelming.

4. Consider how you’ll handle those worst possible outcomes. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being prepared. Give yourself a Plan B … a Plan C … and a Plan D so that you can have something to fall back on if things don’t go well. Shift your goals so that it’s not only about the prosperity of the venture, but what you can learn from it. If learning is part of your goal, then you will always achieve some success, even when the results are negative.

5. Weigh the failure against the potential benefit. Are a couple of bumps in the road worth the overall goal of the project? Isn’t it expected that there might be a few setbacks? Don’t get too hung up on the small failures within the big picture of the project or goal. Remember how little you might achieve if you don’t do anything at all. Taking risk means opening doors to potential success.

An Alternate Strategy: Tim Ferriss’ “Fear Setting” Technique

“The hard choices, what we most fear doing, asking, saying – these are very often exactly what we most need to do,” says Tim Ferriss (Author, Tech Investor, Podcaster). An alternate way to look at our fears is to use the simple exercise that Mr. Ferriss came up with, which he calls “fear-setting” (like goal-setting but uses the framework of fear). It’s designed to put perspective on those fears that are holding us back.

  • STEP 1: Write down your fears. Under each listed fear, explore the worst possible outcomes. Then look at how you can prevent these outcomes. Also look at how you can solve these outcomes if they happen.

  • STEP 2: Write down the possible successes that could occur if you take this opportunity.

  • STEP 3: Write down what would happen if you don’t try or only do the parts that you are comfortable doing.

“I can trace all of my biggest wins, and all of my biggest disasters averted,” says Mr. Ferriss, “back to doing fear-setting at least once a quarter.”

Facing and embracing our fears will not only reward you with more prospects and education in the workplace but your personal life as well. You’ll live life more fully knowing that you didn’t miss out on opportunities for lack of trying. An Executive Coach can help you master the tools you need to meet your fears head-on and conquer them so that you gain the experiences that can help you thrive.


Dr. Nadine Greiner PhD, Executive Coaching San Francisco

Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.

As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’.

Contact Information: Feel free to email Dr. Nadine San Francisco Executive Coaching at or by phone at (415) 861-8383.


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