4 Fears Leaders Must Overcome To Help Their Businesses Succeed


Fear is one of the most common, innate emotions we feel as human beings. From a psychological point of view, fear is a reaction from your Lizard Brain – the part of your brain that is very primitive. Fear is a survival tactic – it warns and protects us against dangers. It can also paralyze us from action. In business, fear can be our worst enemy.

You might think, looking at other startups and small businesses, that you are the only one who is fearful of failure, being lost, etc.

You are not alone.

Fear is a common denominator that ties the business community together. The perceived fearlessness  you see around you is typically entrepreneurs re-framing their thoughts to sound brave. The truth if often very different.

Jen Groover, author of What If? and Why Not?: How to Transform Your Fears Into Action and Start the Business of Your Dreams, a book about transforming your fears, says that rejecting fear creates destructive self-doubting habits:

Until you can jump over your inner roadblocks, the outer ones will stay firmly in place. Overcoming these inner obstacles is about learning to rethink the fearful thoughts that can lead you to quit before you start.

Groover makes the connection between re-framing and using fear to your advantage. Fear can prevent bad decisions and negative situations, but fear can also be fostered in a way that propels you forward. For example, fearing failure can push entrepreneurs to work harder in their business, and make better decisions, all while avoiding mistakes. The key is to avoid shutting down.  Entrepreneur and author Jonathan Fields, in his book Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance, explains:

One of the single greatest determinants of high-level success as an innovator or creator in any realm is the ability to manage and at times even seek out sustained high levels of uncertainty, bundled lovingly with risk of loss and exposure to criticism. These three psychic horsemen of creation must often not only be sought, but embraced repeatedly and with increasing level of intensity over extended periods of time.

What do entrepreneurs and small business owners fear, and how can you take advantage of these fears to improve the success of your business? Here are four of the biggest and most debilitating fears that all entrepreneurs and small business owners experience.

1. Fear of feeling lost.

Every entrepreneur or small business owner will feel lost at some point. It’s crazy to expect to know what you are doing 100% of the time, or to always assume that the plan will work without problems. Things change fast in business, and you must constantly adjust and evolve. It’s okay to feel lost, but it’s not okay to stay that way. Always have a Plan B and adjust to changing situations through trial and error until you get it right.

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2. Fear of not having “enough” funding.

Plenty of businesses start from nothing! You don’t need Silicon Valley unicorn-level funding to ensure success. Many successful entrepreneurs and business owners bootstrap. Remember that fast growth isn’t always right for every business. There have been so many spectacular failures among well-funded startups and businesses that the term “unicorn” has already become pejorative in the startup community. Just think of how Apple started – a few people in a garage, working together towards a common goal. They were not always the revolutionary tech industry leader they are today.

3. Fear of what others will think.

It would be nice to always have everyone on your side and happy with what you’re doing. The truth is that sometimes, family and friends think you’re nuts for investing time in a business they don’t understand. Maybe they’re right to be skeptical, but as long as you believe in your business, chances are that others will too. People who think differently end up making a difference in the world.

People who question what you’re doing are often just fearful themselves of the risks at stake. Their fears tend to impact you. Believe in yourself – don’t let others bring you down.

4. Fear of failure.

The fear of failure perseveres in the minds of all entrepreneurs and small business owners – even the most successful ones. After all, if you fail, you fear that others will think you made a terrible move to quit your job to chase a pipe dream. The truth is, you will be some let downs, delays, and disappointments. Everyone fails at some things. But without those mistakes, you can’t learn anything or improve from the experience. If you can’t learn and improve, you can’t get better.

If you fail at something, ask yourself what you learned from that situation. How can you grow and improve so that you won’t make the same mistake(s) next time?

Be careful not to celebrate failure, though. Not every failure is a learning experience.

Knowing what not to do helps you focus and avoid setbacks, but doesn’t help you adapt to changes. You know what didn’t work — does that help you next time when you need to figure out what will work? If you ask successful entrepreneurs whether they would rather hire someone who has failed or someone who has succeeded, I suspect most would prefer to hire the person who has succeeded. This is not surprising — scientific research shows that we learn more from success than from failure.

A recent University of California, Berkeley study revealed that the threshold of risk and success plays a large role in how motivating or debilitating a fear will be. The study found that when the chances for success were high, people were more likely to use their fear as a motivator to overcome the challenges. However, when the chances for success were likely to be low, people gave in to their fear.

There’s another interesting aspect to the fear of failure. Some people imagine success and believe they will not fail. Although this seems intuitively right, this could actually be counter-productive. Positive thinking alone is not enough. Scientific research has shown that we create best outcomes when we balance positive thinking with visualizing future obstacles and ways we must overcome them.

Fear is real and can be paralyzing. However, if you risk nothing, you risk everything.

Image credit: Mlke Kline

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