Address your fears head-on to maximize your chances for success

David Harding, CEO, HardingPoorman Group

I admit it. I’m an expert on fear.

I became an expert when I found myself paralyzed with fear when my first child was born. I couldn’t believe that I was responsible for this tiny being and literally anything and everything could happen to him. I didn’t feel qualified to protect him or run my business. I was too busy worrying.

As you might expect, I was not much fun to be around. I didn’t enjoy being in groups, attending parties and would get depressed and tearful while alone in my office. I had a strong fear of failure that went way beyond parenting and into running my business – and everything else I was a part of. The odd thing was business was good, my son’s health was good, and life was in pretty good shape.

Things were going well, so what was the problem? Was it the increased pressure from my first child being born? Was I worried about proving something to my own dad? After quite a bit of self-observation, I settled on the latter as being the case with me. Then I took a step back from the situation and changed my perceptions.

I learned that fear really means False Expectations that Appear Real. Most often what you fear doesn’t actually happen. A thought enters your head and it spirals into something unrealistic that takes on a life of its own.

What do you fear? Step outside yourself for a moment and give your fear a reality check. If the fear involves money, write down the numbers.  If the fear involves telling someone bad news, tell them you are uncomfortable. If your fear involves something you can’t control (like going back in time and proving something to my father), write down your fears from greatest to least.

It helps to face your fears in black and white — and certainly takes away the power.

Mark Twain may have expressed fear best: “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

Here’s the thing. Fear of failure is not uncommon. Many successful people have this feeling. Fear is a great motivator.

I recently read a book where the author claimed Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, had a powerful fear of failure. Even after decades in business and having been named as one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs, just prior to his death, Walton still allegedly feared he would lose his company. After reading that book, I remembered reading an article not long ago about one of the wealthiest men in Indiana who admitted he had a strong fear of failure.

Did you also know there is “fear of success?” Absolutely, and it’s more widespread than one would think. When someone sabotages their own career because they don’t believe they deserve success (either intentionally or not), they fall into that category. Psychologists might say if one is used to being at a certain level, they will limit themselves.

I once had a sales rep who was doing very well. After a particularly good year, her mother told her she had a “silver spoon” in her mouth. Guess what? The next year her salary (based on commission) dropped back to the level she was accustomed to.

Be on the lookout for fear of success. It may be limiting your staff. Maybe even you.

And what about fear in an organization? If you have fear in your organization, it’s a good measure of how much you communicate. When times are tough, you should increase communication to lessen fear. This is just as true when the economy is tough, you lose your best customer, or when a valuable employee leaves the firm.

Increase communication by walking around and talking with your staff, but also boost the number of communication tools like newsletters, social media and even meetings. Your team will appreciate your transparency and feel like you care.

Who knows? You might even ease an employee’s fear.

David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm in Indianapolis consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at [email protected] For more information, go to