Creating a Culture of Courage: Take the Fear of Failure Off the Table

Creating a culture of courage takes a lot of, well, courage.

  • How do you react when one of your team members points out a mistake you’ve made?
  • Have you ever reacted defensively when you’ve made a mistake? Even blamed another person?
  • How often do you stop moving forward with an opportunity because you’re concerned about how you’d look if it fails?
  • Do 100% of your team members feel 100% confident sharing 100% of their ideas and suggestions?

OK, that last bullet’s a little lofty but, imagine how many great ideas you miss when people are working in a culture where the leader isn’t comfortable with his/er own mistakes?

Your fear of failure is contagious. If you’re worried about looking like a fool, everyone who works in your company is too. If you brush your mistake under a rug, that tells everyone that that’s how we handle our mistakes around here. If you blamed someone else or made excuses, you are modeling how everyone else in the business should handle their lapses and errors.

Negative impacts of your fear of failureInspire Results Fear of Failure blogpost

The fear of failure is the Achilles heel of every person alive, maybe business owners more than anyone. The negative impacts are huge to you personally and to your company, all the worse because they go largely under the radar:

  • Fear of failure is a huge factor in poor communications between people and within organizations… we don’t say things that need to be said because of the possible ridicule or blowback that may come our way.
  • When you fear looking foolish, it keeps you from asking for help. Fear of failure keeps you from delegating because ‘what if the person you delegate to does it better than you?’ If you don’t delegate, you rob your employees of the chance to add value. If you only allow employees to do the easy stuff, they’ll eventually leave because, regardless of how much you tell them you value them, your actions speak louder. When you delegate challenging things, employees feel special. They love to, and need to, feel like they’re making an impact. This is especially true of Millennials, currently the largest generation in the workforce, whose main goal in worklife is to make a difference.
  • We may also worry that what we’re delegating is all we can do well and to let go of that for tasks of greater impact may result in our failure.
  • We’re good at doing but managing someone else who’s doing the work can create conflict and we may not be able to handle the interaction successfully.
  • You’ve been successful and now you’ve got more to lose. This can heighten our fear of failure which also quells our tolerance for risk… and the business’ growth is based on your risk tolerance.

A fear of making a mistake is a deeply ingrained fear. When someone points out your mistake it can be debilitating for some of us. Each and every one of us has some head trash around a fear of failure. We’re all dealing with a mixed bag of poorly-timed, overly-harsh, too-frequent, or even undeserved criticisms from parents and teachers. It’s a sad reality and it may even require us to do some self work, even therapy, to get at the root of the fear. Getting over your fear of failure is important to both your ability to lead effectively and to the health of your business.

You must set the strong example for how to handle your mistakes. It’s the first and most important step in creating a culture of courage.

How to create a culture of courage

Our guidance was born out of our own personal experience with the fear of feeling like a fool. For me, one of the other coaches pointed out an error in something I said at a team meeting and it sent me spiraling downward so that I could hardly contribute anything for the rest of the meeting, so wrapped up was I in my negative self-talk. Roger knew we need to restructure our company for it’s continued success but struggled to get it defined, finally realizing part of his block was worry about the personal change it would require him to make.

Out of our own fear of failure was born two ways to create a culture of courage:

  1. Create a Courage Contract
  2. Use the “6-step in-the-Moment Mistake Recovery Process”
Make a contract for creating a culture of courage

Bringing fear into the light of day weakens it!  This is the goal of a Courage Contract.

A Courage Contract is a list around 2 – 5 statements about how we deal with mistakes around here. It’s a list of behaviors, beliefs, and encouraging sayings that all leaders and employees agree to. Your company’s Courage Contract may contain statements like:

  • Our goal is to make small mistakes early and often.
  • We’re constantly driving toward persistent, incremental progress.
  • We aspire to Failing Forward, Fast!
  • Mistakes are forgivable if we admit them.
  • We blame processes, not people, for mistakes.
  • We will learn and grow from mistakes.
  • The biggest mistake with mistakes is not admitting them.
  • Mistakes are part of work life. It’s our response to the error that counts.
  • Mistakes are portals to discovery.

Kick off your courage contract at a team meeting. Offer a statement or two that reflect your beliefs or goals, then ask employees to take a few days to give you their ideas. Once you finalize your contract, hang it in prominent places, laminate desk cards, or put it on computer screens.

Fear of failure is a braking mechanism. Without it, everyone is growing and learning more quickly, ideas are generated without fear of ridicule, and change is embraced bravely. This is a massive competitive advantage since fear is rampant in business.

In-the-Moment Mistake Recovery Process

Having a Culture of Courage is a massive competitive advantage since fear is rampant in business. If you have a process to handle your mistake in the moment, it takes the power away from the fear of failure. We’ll share Inspire Results “6-Step In-theMoment Mistake Recovery Process in the upcoming Mar 9, 2022 blogpost and newsletter.

Inspire Results Business Coaching

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