How to: Recognize and deal with fear of failure in your team

It’s normal to feel some level of fear or anxiety when embarking on a new project, starting a new business, or taking on a new challenge. But for some people, that fear can become so overwhelming that it prevents them from even trying. This is known as ‘fear of failure’. If you’re leading a team, it’s important to be aware of this fear, as it can have a negative impact on your team’s performance.

Two team members looking down on colleague who's sitting behind a computer

What causes can trigger fear of failure?

Fear of failure is a very real phenomenon, and it can have a number of causes. For some people, it may stem from a previous experience of failure. Others may have been raised in an environment where they were constantly told that they were not good enough, or that they would never amount to anything. This can lead to a deep-seated belief that they are destined to fail.

Imposter syndrome is another common cause of fear of failure. This is when people feel like they do not deserve their success, and that they are just 'faking it' until they are eventually found out. This can lead to a constant feeling of anxiety and insecurity, regardless of how successful a person may be. As a leader, you want to be able to recognize imposter syndrome, so you can help colleagues who might be struggling.

How does fear of failure impact your team?

Fear of failure can have a number of negative impacts on your team. For starters, it can lead to low morale and motivation. If people believe that they are going to fail, they are less likely to try, and this can quickly lead to a downward spiral.

Fear of failure can also lead to a lack of creativity and innovation. If people are too afraid to take risks, they may play it safe and stick to the status quo. This can stifle creativity and prevent your team from developing new and better ways of doing things.

Finally, fear of failure can lead to conflict and tension within your team. If people are afraid to speak up or share their ideas, it can lead to frustration and resentment. This can quickly escalate into arguments and fights, which can damage team unity and jeopardize your project.

The signs of fear of failure

Here are some signs that your team members may be afraid of failing:

  • They're perfectionists who need everything to be just right before they'll start working on a task.
  • They're reluctant to take risks or try new things.
  • They're afraid to speak up or share their ideas.
  • They're quick to give up when things get tough.
  • They're always looking for someone to blame when things go wrong.
  • They feel like they're not good enough or that they don't deserve their success.

How can you deal with fear of failure in your team?

If you suspect that fear of failure is affecting your team, there are a number of things you can do to help.

1. Encourage them to seek professional help

When the impact of fear of failure is severe and the team member is struggling to deal with it on their own, encourage them to seek professional help. A therapist can enable them to get more grip on their situation.

2. Create a safe and supportive environment

It's important to create a safe and supportive environment where people feel like they can take risks and make mistakes. This means letting go of the need for perfection, and encouraging your team to experiment and try new things.

3. Provide resources and support

You need to provide your team with the resources and support they need to succeed. This might include training, mentorship, or simply making sure that they have the time and space to do their best work.

4. Lead by example

You need to lead by example. Show your team that it's okay to fail, and that mistakes are simply an opportunity to learn and grow. This will encourage them to take risks, and it will help to create a culture of innovation within your team.

5. Encourage open communication

Encourage your team to communicate openly and honestly with each other. This will help to build trust, and it will allow you to identify and address any fears or concerns that people may have.

6. Be patient

Finally, you need to be patient. Change doesn't happen overnight, and it may take some time for your team to become comfortable taking risks. But if you persist, eventually you will create a culture of innovation and success.

Things to take-away

  • Fear of failure is a common issue that can impact your team in a number of negative ways.
  • There are a number of things you can do to help address the issue. By creating a safe and supportive environment, providing resources and support, leading by example, and encouraging open communication, you can help your team overcome their fear of failure and become more successful.

About me

Hi, I’m Lilian. I’m currently the head of a design team in a digital agency in Amsterdam and love to write about leadership and share tips based on my experience over the past couple of years.

Lead by design

I decided to start this blog as a way to share my thoughts on leadership. I’m passionate about helping others learn more about leadership and how to be a good leader, so I hope this blog will be helpful to those who are looking for tips and advice on leadership.

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