Fear of Failure: Why It’s Essential to Success

Image Courtesy of istockphoto/AnsonLu

This is a guest post by Bill Blankschaen. Bill is a writer, speaker, ministry consultant and non-profit leader. He blogs at FaithWalkers at Patheos and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

If you fear failure, you are not alone. A quick Google search reveals countless resources to help you overcome the fear of failure. Certainly, an unhealthy fear of failure can paralyze us and destroy the culture of the teams we lead. But the lack of any fear of failure can be just as deadly.

I recently enjoyed lunch with a friend who excels in sales for a large media company. Quite simply, he’s one of the best at what he does. Always eager to learn, I asked him what trait seemed to be shared by all the failed salespeople he has seen over the years. His reply? Overconfidence.

If you want to be creative all it takes is one step. The extra one. -Dale Dauten

The most common characteristic of those who failed was that they all once thought failure to be impossible.

There’s an important lesson for us as leaders. When no one fears failing at all, our team gets complacent, inefficient, and starts to coast. As I’ve often reminded my teams, coasting kills. It’s when we think our ship is unsinkable that we stop looking for icebergs ahead — in spite of repeated warnings.

We all know how that story ends.

When No One Fears Failure

Gain Competitive Advantage Through Servant Leadership

Photo by Matt McGee on flickr.

Twitter continues to amaze me as a way to connect with interesting people from all over.  Months ago, I met Bill Flint and we began a conversation.  Bill is the founder and CEO of Flint Strategic Partners based in Indiana.

Recently, Bill poured his thirty-eight years of business experience into a book on one of my favorite subjects:  servant leadership.  Bill sees servant leadership as a way to distinguish a company.  In fact, the full title of the book sums it up well:  The Journey to Competitive Advantage Through Servant Leadership.servant leadership

I’ve previously written about the characteristics of servant leadership.  Bill’s book includes his own definition and his unique perspective of this type of leadership.

I decided to share a conversation with Bill about his experiences and his work. I liked Bill’s thought that competitive advantage is like a journey, not a destination. And servant leadership is one way to help you on the path.

Bill, your book is filled with wisdom and information for developing leaders.  Let’s focus on just a few areas.

If you want to be a great leader, you need to watch out for certain temptations.  You share six areas servant leaders need to guard against.  Walk us through these areas and why they can trip up aspiring leaders.

  1. Self-Centeredness: Is when the most important person in your life is yourself. All of us struggle with self-centeredness at times. We are born selfish. A good example is to put a couple of two year olds in one room with one toy and you will see it in action. As a leader, self-centeredness says to your people, “It’s all about me, my accomplishments, my title, and you are here to serve me.” Leaders never really fool their people as they can see right through us. Self-centeredness can destroy the chance leaders have for real meaningful relationships with their people and for achieving the results the business needs. People don’t expect perfect leaders, but they want leaders who are real and care about them.
  2. Sense of Entitlement: Is when you believe because you have a title you are special and should be treated differently than others. You are #1 in your own mind.  Servant leaders put their people first. They realize people (the ones who do the work every day) are entitled to have a leader who will lead them with honesty, caring, integrity and encouragement. A sense of entitlement usually leads to destruction. Just ask the Enron executives and Dennis Kozlowski former CEO of Tyco and so many others who have fallen into the “it’s all about me” trap.

John Smoltz on the Benefits of Failure

On June 8th, the Atlanta Braves are retiring the jersey of John Smoltz, and naturally when I think John Smoltz, I think about success:

  • 21 year major league career
  • One of the most beloved men in Atlanta Braves history
  • 1995 World Series Champion
  • Numerous awards from the Cy Young to the Roberto Clemente

When you talk with John Smoltz, however, it isn’t success he talks about.  It’s failure.

He sees failure as: 

Success by Failing Quickly

Image courtesty of istockphoto/ZargonDesign

One of the biggest problems in business isn’t failure.  It’s failing too slowly.

The biggest failure of all is never failing at all.  If you never fail, you are playing it too safe.  You are taking zero risk.  A culture with a fear of failure is a culture doomed tofailure.  Others in the marketplace will pass you by, and it may be too late by the time you realize it.


“The biggest failure of all is never failing at all.” -Skip Prichard



Failing quickly is much better than failing slowly.  Have you ever been in a business and known something was going to fail?  For whatever reason, the project marches onward.  Meanwhile, everyone who touches it knows the project is doomed.  Yet on it goes, sometimes for years.  I’ve seen some huge, expensive projects continue when, if someone would just do a reality check, the decision to kill it would be obvious.