How Successful Leaders Approach Fear of Failure


How Successful Leaders Approach Fear of Failure

Hi meaningful leader,

Self-doubt can really keep us from pursuing our goals, but did you know that fear of failure (also known as atychiphobia) is a choice? Developing our resilience and upgrading our mindset can help us in overcoming it.

According to a survey conducted in 2018 and published by the Institute of Economics and Management, 90% of CEOs “admitted fear of failure keeps them up at night more than any other concern.”

Fear of failure can become a paralyzing force against leaders, if kept unchecked. It is associated to a limiting believe that can impact even the most qualified individuals and it’s more linked to mindset, than it is to talent.

There’s a super interesting study from Dr. Carol Dweck, in which she identified two types of mindsets. The experiment consisted of observing, and afterwards interviewing a group of young gifted students, while they resolved puzzles. As the complexity of the puzzles increased, two groups started to clearly take shape. On one hand, a vast majority of students, when the puzzle became too complicated, they started to grow frustrated, sad and even disengaged. Their approach was “maybe I’m not as talented as I thought I was.”  On the other hand, a fewer number of students became extremely excited about being unable to resolve the puzzle right away. Their approach was “well, it’s a puzzle, so it obviously has to have a solution, so I’m about to learn something new.”.

Notice the difference?

Dr. Dweck identified the first group of students as having what she called a Fixed Mindset, and the second, a Growth Mindset. Thus, understanding that not because we have to work harder at something, means that we are less talented or less intelligent.

When an individual has a Fixed Mindset, the fear of not being able to yield successful results in a new project or job opportunity, as they did on a previous one, evokes a feeling of shame and that shame is what triggers the fear of failure. In his book, “How to Fix a Broken Heart”, Dr. Guy Winch, an expert on the subject of failure states that, “People who have a fear of failure are motivated to avoid failing not because they cannot manage the basic emotions of disappointment, anger, and frustration that accompany such experiences but because failing also makes them feel deep shame.”

Conversely, as Dr. Dweck experiment reveled, people with a Growth Mindset,
thrive at the expectation of a new challenge and perceive it as an opportunity for developing new skills.

Why did I want to share this with you?

Because as with everything else in life, acknowledging the problem, is the first step to resolve it. Understanding the threat of this tricky foe is critical for the success of leaders and that of their teams. Yes, the world of business evolves daily and at a rapid speed, so keeping up with the competition, can become taunting. However, if you’re a leader, you got there because of you think strategically and you excel at execution; otherwise, you wouldn’t have made it. So have faith in your ability to cast a successful vision and then to drive the team to execute it, without allowing fear to paralyze you.

Developing our resilience and creating self-awareness about the two types of mindsets, and ensuring we are making the conscious decision of approaching challenges with a sense of excitement for the growth to come; instead of as the possibility of failure and the associated shame it casts on us, will help us to be more assertive and focus more on working at finding a way forward.

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice.”

James C. Collins

Thanks for reading and God bless,




  • Love the Jim Collins quote. His books, “Good to great and Built to last” is a must read for all leaders. Another great article.

    • Thanks so much for your feedback, yes definitely great reads. I’m actually in the process of writing a book on leadership and team building and looking for volunteers who would like to support my writing journey. Would you like to be added to the distribution list?

  • Really good focus on the two different mindsets. I find myself altering between the two. Now to just focus on the growth mindset and to stay in that lane!!

    • Great feedback Mandy! I really think that having the awareness allows us to be more mindful in approaching challenges as opportunities, with curiosity and excitement, instead of allowing fear to creep in


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