This morning, while taking my son to his freestyle skiing competition, I drove past one of my former rivals from my high school football days.
Predictably, he groaned as I began to tell him about every game we played against this school. Not again, he begged, and I begrudgingly retreated into silence. But silence can often prove to be a blessing, as it allowed me to think about my worst game against this rival.
It was the year I finally won the starting QB position. We travelled to this school for a season opener that we should have won. Instead I let the team down, played a tentative game, messed up my play calls, and cost us a victory.
Why? I was afraid. Panicked I would screw up. Frightened to lose my role. In the end, my fear-induced ineptitude swiftly cost me my QB job. This was my first experience realizing that if you think about something too much, it will come true.
There is no greater enemy in the arena or the boardroom than fear. Nothing frustrates me more than when I hear one of my employees is afraid of screwing up or even worse, afraid of me. I once had a client tell me I scared them.
Creating an environment devoid of fear has been a relentless objective of mine for several years. The only thing I want people to be concerned about is not trying. Not giving their all. Mistakes will happen. Initiatives may fail. Pitches may be lost. But trying and giving it our all is the true victory. Not trying is failure. I think I am most upset with people when they won’t try. The effort is as important as the result.
It’s a lesson we need to apply away from work as well. If you have kids who play sports, you have no doubt been a part of some great seasons and some crummy seasons. Odds are high that during the crummy seasons, your child and her teammates competed in a culture of fear. Usually created by a well-meaning coach who thinks she is installing a system, but doesn’t realize she’s installing a Pavlovian condition.
Maybe she is as afraid of losing as I was? Maybe she too had the same experience when she was 15? Maybe she too will drive past an arena from her youth, where fear got the better of her one game, and realize that fear doesn’t breed success.