Business management

Leadership lessons: channelling fear into success

At the heart of many of our choices, fear can be an insightful tool and helpful for identifying weak spots in your business. We look at some of the common concerns keeping entrepreneurs up at night and creative ways of dealing with them. At the heart of many of our choices, fear can be an insightful tool and helpful for identifying weak spots in your business. We look at some of the common concerns keeping entrepreneurs up at night and creative ways of dealing with them.

According to the Dunning-Kruger effect, high-performing individuals can often be more afraid of failure than their less successful peers because they have a better understanding of what success looks like and where they need to improve. Like impostor syndrome, which can cause people to worry that they will fail in a new job, it can have a paralysing effect on even the most talented entrepreneur.

However, fear is not always a negative emotion and can actually have a positive function. Dr Andrew Clements, lecturer in organisational psychology at the University of Bedfordshire, emphasises that people experience fear in different ways and adapt their responses accordingly.

“A certain amount of anxiety can be useful,” he says. “Without a little bit of stress, there wouldn’t be much reason to get up in the morning. When you know you’ve got to do something that may be stressful, that can give you the motivation to get it done.”

Fighting fear

One of the things that keep entrepreneurs up at night is their fear of failure. Growing a business often involves taking risks, and sometimes taking the next big step can be incredibly daunting. Matt Fox, CEO of holiday rental marketplace Snaptrip, argues that it’s important to take risks in a mindful way. When he co-founded Snaptrip, Fox first considered his family and financial commitments, before building a new business.

“You have to carefully assess your personal situation,” he says. “It’s dangerous to have blind faith in your vision and sacrifice everything you’ve earned because you think you’ve got the best idea ever. Instead, what you should do is consistently and intelligently prove that you’re on to something. Take intelligent risks depending on your personal circumstances.”

I try to turn my fear on its head and say, ‘What’s my fear if I don’t do this? What may happen?’

Joshua Stevens
Founder and CEO, One Retail Group

Even if you do fail, it doesn’t need to be the end of the world. Joshua Stevens, founder and CEO of One Retail Group, started importing consumer goods from China as a hobby when he was just 13 years old. Aged 16, he lost all the money he had earned when a manufacturer in Japan did not deliver the products he had paid for upfront.

“I try to turn my fear on its head and say, ‘What’s my fear if I don’t do this? What may happen?’” he says. “In general, the fear of missing an opportunity, the fear of not building a successful business, the fear of not being the first person to develop that product or create that service, feels more scary to me than the fear of getting into business.”

Scaling confidence

For some entrepreneurs who manage to successfully negotiate the challenges of starting a new business, a new form of anxiety emerges. As the business grows, it can be hard not to lose focus and to ensure that all employees contribute to achieving business goals. Kevin Gaskell, serial entrepreneur and author, advocates a three-tier approach to stay on top of your fears as the owner of a growing business. Commitment, connection and creativity can help to engage with fear factors productively and turn them into business motivators.

“The commitment part entails being absolutely sure of what it is that you want to achieve,” he says. “The second aspect is about connecting everybody in the organisation, and making sure they know how they can contribute to achieving success. The third part is creativity. There’s nothing more fun than winning and actually achieving the success you’ve been dreaming about.”

Mastering your message

Marketing your ideas effectively, speaking about your business in public, and communicating with the press are common sources of anxiety. Janey Lee Grace, whose own Imperfectly Natural brand includes a blog and several books, met many insecure entrepreneurs during her career as a BBC radio broadcaster. She now offers media training and coaching to professionals, so they don’t lose out on vital marketing opportunities due to anxiety.

“You need to have absolute clarity on what your message is and who you’re talking to,” she says. “With regard to confidence, fake it until you make it; appear confident, even if you’re not. It helps if you’re very passionate about what you do. People like to work with people they know and trust. There’s no need to be perfect but you need to be willing to get personal, to share your story.”

Fear is a highly subjective emotion that is perceived differently by each individual, and can take a variety of forms. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that guarantees success in every situation. Instead, Andrew Clements advocates exploring the origins of your fear and how you can respond to it.

“Sometimes fear is a bad thing; sometimes it’s a good thing. Sometimes we need to embrace fear, and sometimes we need to listen to it,” he says. “Whatever we’re doing, if we’re working with emotions, fear or enthusiasm, it’s important to do it in a mindful way, and to think about what we’re trying to achieve and how we’re trying to achieve it.”

Although fear is commonly perceived as a negative emotion, it’s actually a powerful motivator. There’s no need to eliminate anxiety altogether. Instead, use it to take considered risks, build your confidence, and stay on top of your business as it grows.

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