We pay a heavy price for our fear of failure. It is a powerful obstacle to growth. It assures the progressive narrowing of the personality and prevents exploration and experimentation. There is no learning without some difficulty and fumbling. If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on risking failure all your life.
Let's be clear: Fear of failure is the single biggest challenge for leaders striving to make their organizations more innovative and resilient. To borrow a phrase popularized by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, fear is failure's “force multiplier.” It distorts the likelihood of failure itself and often magnifies its impact—and it can actually set us up for the very failure we fear. Mark's father, Stanley Coopersmith, a pioneering psychologist and education researcher, captured this phenomenon concisely years ago: “Fear of failure is the best predictor of failure.”2
Fear of failure even has a scientific name: atychiphobia (pronounced attic-a-phobia).3 As much as we might like to deny or defy it, we spend most of the time living in and dreading failure, as individuals and organizations. It may well be the fear of failure that leads us to deny the likelihood of failure, ignore its consequences, or defy its power. In fact, we probably spend more time dreading failure than we spend actually dealing ...