Remember when you were a kid and just knew there was a monster lurking at the foot of your bed? How did you get over that fear? Most likely someone turned on the lights and pointed out that your monster was nothing more than a sweater hanging on a chair. Once the lights came on, the monster was no longer frightening.

The same principle applies to overcoming our fear of failure as leaders. When we look at our fear in the light of day, we discover that what we are afraid of isn’t so frightening after all.

The following acrostic gives us a handy tool for remembering the steps to take in order to shed light on that which we fear most.

*Find a different perspective: We often admit defeat simply because we failed to achieve the results we had anticipated. Those results may not be failures at all. Spencer Silver, a chemist at the 3M research laboratories, was trying to invent a stronger adhesive in 1970. The results were exactly the opposite of what he had intended. The adhesive stuck to objects, but could easily be pulled away. It was super-weak instead of super-strong.

Four years later, another 3M scientist named Arthur Fry put some of Silver’s adhesive on slips of paper to mark pages in his hymnal as he sang in his church choir. From Silver’s failure, Post-it notes were developed in 1980 and have become one of the most popular office products on the market.

Take another look at your failures. You may find that, from a different perspective, they open the door to a whole new market for you.

*Engage your problem-solving skills: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, reportedly told of a time when he climbed into a taxicab in Paris. Before he could utter a word, the driver turned to him and asked, “Where can I take you, Mr. Doyle?”

Doyle was flabbergasted. He asked the driver if he had ever seen him before.

“No, sir,” the driver responded, “But this morning’s paper had a story about you being on vacation in Marseilles. This is the taxi stand where people who return from Marseilles always come. Your skin color tells me you have been on vacation. The ink-spot on your right index finger suggests to me that you are a writer. Your clothing is very English, not French. Adding up all those pieces of information, I deduced that you are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”

“This is amazing!” the writer exclaimed. “You are a real-life counter-part to my fictional creation, Sherlock Holmes.”
“There was one other clue,” the driver said.

“What was that?”
“Your name is on the front of your suitcase.”
If only all clues were that obvious! I’ve found that those who cannot overcome their fear of failure are often those who walk away from a failed attempt without making any effort to discover why they failed and how they can avoid the mistake next time around.

*Ask for help: Somewhere in your network is someone who has information you need to solve a given problem. Someone in your network can offer you encouragement when you struggle. Someone in your network has been where you are now and can suggest ways to get to where you want to go. What’s keeping you from calling them right now?

*Resist the temptation to give up: Persistence is really the only difference between those who finally reach their goal and those who just talk about it. Who can forget the image of Rocky Balboa, the boxer who overcame a more skilled adversary simply because he refused to stay on the canvas after being knocked down?

Fear not the temporary setback. It will fade as soon as you attempt success again. Fear instead a life spent thinking, what if…?

Face your fear of failure, my friend. You’ll discover it is no more frightening than that imaginary monster of your childhood.


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