Fear of Failure…Fear of Success


Communicating peopleLast week I posted on the danger of limiting beliefs. These frequently take the form of fear of failure…the reasons that we believe we will not be successful. The truth is, we can also set ourselves up for failure by a fear of success.

I have had many clients who face this challenge. Here are just a few of the ways that it has been voiced.

  • I would grow my business, but I don’t want the headaches that additional employees would bring.
  • I know that I could make a lot more money, but I don’t like what has happened to my friends who have achieved that goal; they’re just not nice people any more.
  • I would apply for my manager’s job when she retires, but I know the crazy hours she worked, and I don’t want that for myself.

The first question I always ask is, How do you define success? If you define it as a larger business with problem employees, that is what you will achieve…if you move forward. If success is making a lot of money, and becoming the type of wealthy person that you detest, that is what you will become…if you move forward. If it is getting a promotion and working untold hours as a result, that is what you will do…if you move forward.

Overcoming the fear of success requires that we refuse to accept other people’s definitions of what success means. You can grow your business, and avoid hiring (or retaining) problem employees. You can become wealthy and still “be a nice person.” You can obtain a promotion (whether to your manager’s position or another) and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

If you begin with the truly big picture, you can prepare–and plan for–the changes required to get there. If you start with only a piece of the picture, the other pieces will end up being challenged to accommodate that one. If you set your path toward someone else’s definition of success, it is likely you will undermine yourself along the way…or be extremely disappointed when you achieve it.

Overcoming the fear of success requires that you define success on your own terms. Your definition may include whatever you want…This is your success we are talking about. I encourage people to think broadly. We tend to look at personal success independent of our professional lives, and professional success independent of our personal lives; neither is true. What is the income you are seeking to earn? The bank balance (and/or retirement fund) you want to have? The nature of the job you want? The work environment you are seeking? The personal life you desire? The balance between personal and professional?

How do you define success? Are you able, and willing, to give it your definition, one that balances all aspects of what you are looking for in your life, and then work to achieve that? Comment below.

I Would Do It, But…


istock_000005414141smal-posterlYou would do it, but… But what?

I’m not sure I know anyone who hasn’t started a statement this way more than once. I certainly have. I hear some form of it from virtually every coaching client, every mentoring client, every consulting client that I work with. I hear it from family, and from friends.

I would do it, but…

Sometimes the “but” has true legitimacy.

  • I would go to medical school, but I’m 58 now and really want to retire at 65.
  • I would move to Argentina, but I have found out that my credentials (on which I depend for my living) are not recognized there.
  • I would buy my apartment in a heartbeat, but it is in a rental building and not for sale.


More often than not, however, the “but” is legitimate in the mind of the speaker…and it has no factual basis.

  • I would apply for the job, but why waste my time when I’m not good enough to get it?
  • I would move in with Pete, but what happens if it doesn’t work out?
  • I would start my own business, but I’ve never run a business before. What if I fail?

It’s true. You might not get the job; things might not work out with Pete; your business might fail. And, if you apply with the belief that you are not good enough, if you move in with Pete believing the relationship might not work out, if you start your own business with your eye on failure…chances are good that failure is on the horizon.

Almost all of us develop limiting beliefs along the way. They define our world, and how we relate to it. They are taught to us, intentionally or not, but our parents, our teachers, our religious institutions. They grow from our own experiences; we learn them from our peers and our colleagues. They define what we do, and don’t, pursue in life. They define our level of happiness and our degree of success.

  • I’m not good enough.
  • I’m not worthy.
  • It won’t happen because I am (fill in your “other” status here, e.g. woman, gay, person of color).
  • I don’t deserve happiness.
  • I deserve to be abused.
  • I’m too old.
  • I’m too young.
  • I’m too skilled.
  • I’m too stupid.
  • I’m too (fill in the blank).
  • Others are better than me.
  • Others are more deserving than me.
  • Others get breaks; I don’t.
  • We live in a world of scarcity; I’m always going to be living on the edge, trying not to fall off.

Most people think that reality shapes our beliefs. In fact, it is the other way around. Our beliefs shape our reality; we interpret our experiences through them. No one dared sail too far from the shores of Europe; they didn’t want to risk falling off the edge of the world. And then someone did, and proved the belief that the world was flat was, in fact, wrong. Those who believe that global warming is real behave in one way relative to our environment; those who believe global warming is a hoax often behave very differently. Our beliefs shape our reality.

Letting go of our limiting beliefs can be scary. It calls on us to be more courageous as we face the opportunities that open up for us in our lives.

  • I will apply for the job. I am more than qualified.
  • I will move in with Peter. We will work together to make this relationship work.
  • I am launching my own business. I have a lot to learn, and I can be–will be–successful!

Letting go of our limiting beliefs can also allow profound shifts in our lives, and in the lives of those around us. I see it again and again and again with my clients. Impossible futures become possible and then become real. Lives are transformed. Organizations are transformed. Realities are transformed.

What would it be like if you were to let go of just one of your limiting beliefs? Comment below.

Mistakes and Trust



Mistakes go hand-in-hand with trust.

There is no such thing as an error-free human being. Mistakes are an inherent part of the change process; and we all make them. We make mistakes in our personal lives. We make mistakes as partners, spouses, and parents. We make mistakes at work as well.

Sometimes our mistakes are small ones. Sometimes they are quite large. I was recently talking with someone who told me that after she received her law degree and was admitted to the bar she “practiced law for three minutes.” The adversarial environment was not right for her. Major companies launch new brands, or new strategies, that fail. (For those of you who can remember 1985, think “New Coke.”)

Many years ago I unexpectedly ended up having lunch with Curt Carlson. Curt was, among other things, the founder of Ask Mr. Foster Travel and Radisson Hotels. His was a multi-billion dollar privately held empire. At the time, I was heading a team that was tasked with selecting a travel agency for an organization with a multi-million dollar travel budget, and Ask Mr. Foster was one of our final two candidates. While there are many stories (and lessons) that I can share from that experience, one stands out here. After reviewing the terms of the service package his regional director had offered us, Curt spent the rest of the lunch telling us stories. The stories he told were stories about his mistakes, the businesses he tried to launch (or launched) that were total failures. He told us about his mistakes, the lessons they taught him, and how he then applied those lessons to achieve success. Many things contributed to Curt Carlson’s tremendous success. One of the key contributors was owning and learning from his mistakes.

If we fail to own our mistakes, whether personal or professional, we don’t learn from them. We can’t examine them with the help of others to determine where we went wrong, what we might do differently the next time. If we don’t own our mistakes and don’t learn from them, it is likely we will repeat them.

So where does trust come in? It’s quite simple. People know that people are not infallible. If every mistake is someone else’s fault, I will quickly learn to not trust you. If mistakes are “buried” and not talked about, I will quickly learn to not trust you.

Trust is earned not by infallibility, but by honesty, by integrity. Trust is earned, at least in part, by owning our mistakes.

What is your experience with mistakes and trust? Comment below.

Important Changes Can’t Be Undone.


Undo KeyI admit it…I am not sure who some of my Facebook friends are, or where they came from. There must be some connection, some reason I either offered them a friend request, or accepted one that was sent my way. It’s easy enough to unfriend them; but then again, why bother? Our relationship isn’t that important to either of us.

Just like unknown “friends” on Facebook, little changes can be easily undone. If you fell in love with the paint chip in the store but hate the way the living room looks now that you have painted it, you can redo it. If you felt good about the way the new suit looked on you in the dressing room but saw it differently once you got home, you can return it. Some car dealerships are now offering exchange and/or return options for new car purchases.

But, important changes can’t be undone.

Getting divorced is not the same as never having been married. Obtaining a new job is not the same as never having held the current one. Moving to the city (or the country) is not the same as never having lived in the country (or the city). The examples are endless. Whether the change was personal (e.g. returning to work after the birth of a child or a serious illness), organizational (e.g. withdrawing a new product from the market after its launch as a result of quality control problems), or social (e.g. significant movement toward equal rights)…you can’t undo the change.

You can’t undo it because people have experienced it. you can’t undo it because people have been changed by it. You can’t undo it because it has been part of the way people now think/see/behave in the world, or part of how they now think/see/behave toward you, or part of how you now think/see/behave.

Ultimately, as I have written elsewhere, all change is personal. And when people are personally changed you can’t undo it. Whether mother or father, if you have taken time off of work for the birth of your child, you are returning to work with a different perspective. If you are the business that launched–and withdrew–a faulty product, the marketplace sees you differently. If you have experienced being treated fairly after a lifetime of judgment and discrimination, you are not going to willingly relinquish fair treatment.

Important changes can’t be undone. For this reason, some people refuse to make them in the first place. They hold onto the old ways, the old beliefs, the old technologies.

While millions of photographs are taken on cellphones around the world each day, there remain photographers with large-format cameras and film, and photographers who are making albumen and cyanotype prints. Though their work is often beautiful and distinctive, cellphone cameras will be replaced by a future generation technology, not by a return to film.

The Amish shun technology and modern conveniences. They continue to travel in horse and buggy, sharing the roads with today’s cars and trucks. It is likely that in the not-to-distant future they will be sharing the road with driverless vehicles; today’s cars and trucks will not be replaced by horse and buggy.

Last week I wrote that “every change has an expiration date.” And when changes expire, they are not replaced by that which came before, but by something newer, something different.

Important changes will expire; they can’t be undone.

It was the thinking of the past that fostered today’s changes…thinking that challenged the status quo, that sought creative and innovative solutions to the problems and the opportunities being faced then. Every solution, every innovation, every change, brings with it new problems. Albert Einstein is quoted as having said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Nor can we solve them by returning to the thinking of the past. Important changes cannot be undone.

If important change can’t be undone, what is the answer to today’s challenges in our lives?

First, don’t act/react impulsively.

Explore; consider options; “think outside the box;” ask those who think differently than you for their perspective, and listen with an open mind.

Learn from the past. There are reasons that change happened back then. Many of the factors that made things work–that sustained the status quo–back then are no longer in place.

There were mistakes that were made along the way. Learn from them; don’t repeat them.

Avoid “change for change sake.” if there is no other reason than to make change, then you are squandering your capacity for change when you may well need that capacity for unforeseen changes that are just around the corner.

Recognize that our memories of the past will often “let go of the bad” and “reinforce the good.” The “good old days” may be old, but it is doubtful that they were as good as they are remembered…and if they were as good for us, it is likely that they were less-than-good for others who are in a better place today.

Consider the anchors that keep you tied to the past. Are there ones that you need to let go of, others that you need to connect to differently to meet today’s challenges?

Have you ever undone an important change (or seen one undone)? How? If important changes can’t be undone, what other things can you recommend regarding how we address today’s challenges? Comment below.


Every Change Has an Expiration Date


grunge red tag

I remember my first personal computer; it was a state-of-the-art dual floppy disk PC manufactured by IBM. In order to run spell-check I had to swap one of the disks out to put in the spell-check disk; my recollection is that there were 10 or more disks for the word processing program. The printer required a special Plexiglas hood that was lined with eggshell crate foam to help manage the noise. At the time many office workers were still on electric typewriters or dedicated word processing machines. That was 1983.

In 1990 I bought my own personal laptop; it was an upgraded model with 20 MB of storage. If I still had it today, that laptop wouldn’t even hold one of the photographs I now take with my digital mirrorless 35mm camera. Part of this post was written on a 120 GB iPad while sitting in a park enjoying the sunshine; it was uploaded to the cloud and then downloaded to a PC when I got home.

In 2004, 90% of American households had landlines; today that number is less than 50%. I am old enough to remember the evolution from 78’s, to 33-1/3’s and 45’s (for my younger readers, all forms of musical records); to eight-track and cassette tapes; to CD’s; to the first iPod, which Steve Jobs boasted was “designed to hold 1,000 songs.” Even that feels outdated today.

Every change has an expiration date.

Today most children still grow up thinking they have to choose a career that will be theirs the rest of their lives. The reality is, some of the lines of work that 2016’s high school and college graduates will experience don’t even exist yet. Even those who do select–and remain in–a single career for a lifetime, will hold way more than one job.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker currently holds ten different jobs before age forty, and this number is projected to grow. Forrester Research predicts that today’s youngest workers…will hold twelve to fifteen jobs in their lifetime. (“How Many Jobs Will the Average Person Have in His or Her Lifetime?” Scott Marker, LinkedIn. February 22, 2015.)

It’s not just careers or jobs that are changing. Things change “on the job.” Think about almost any line of work…it is most likely changing at revolutionary speed. Manufacturing. Teaching. Sales. Law. Healthcare. Technology. Construction. Agriculture. Transportation. Do a little research over the past 40 years (back to 1976), which is approximately the average length of a working career these days. If you weren’t around “back then,” it will be difficult for you to even imagine what work in that field was like compared to today.

Every change has an expiration date.

Changes in our personal lives have expiration dates as well. Child to teen to adult to elder. Single to married to single or widowed. Student to worker to retired. Childless to parent to grandparent, perhaps to great-grandparent. A home full of children to an empty nest. Within each of these changes there are more changes, some minor and some significant; the honeymoon is not like the first year of marriage, or the fifth, or the twenty-fifth.

Yet we tend to approach changes as if they are permanent, as if “This is it.” As a result:

  • We continue to invest in the old, the outdated, the worn out and expired well after such investments are justified
  • Decisions become harder and harder to make, and even more challenging to execute
  • We find ourselves “frozen in time,” failing to let go of the past, becoming increasingly isolated as we grow more and more distant from both the present and afraid of the future
  • Hours, days, weeks, years are spent talking about–and longing for–a past that cannot return
  • Victors of an earlier day allow themselves to evolve into victims today
  • Once upbeat, vibrant lives grow disengaged, depressed, despondent, desperate

Every change has an expiration date…but not everything in our lives has to change.

Anchors are what provides a sense of stability even in times of turbulent change. I have addressed anchors several times in my posts; Anchors Aweigh talks about them in depth. For many people, their families, lifetime friends, religious or spiritual practices, core values, and beliefs serve as those anchors. I am not sure whether any of these anchor lasts a lifetime without going through its own changes, at least for most of us. But if we can hold on to them, move with their changes and change our relationship to them when the time is right, they will continue to keep us anchored even as other changes in our lives continue to expire.

How do you address the expiration dates of your changes? Do you allow yourself adequate time to define, prepare for, plan, and execute the transitions; do you try to ignore the expirations; or do you try to leap the chasm at the last moment? What anchors move you through the expiration of important changes in your life? Comment below.

Character and Presence: Guest Post by Daryl Conner


daryl-conner-high-resIt is an honor to publish this guest post by Daryl Conner. For more than four decades Daryl has been a thought leader in the field of change management. I have had the good fortune to study and work with Daryl for much of the past 28 years. Over the last five years, he has increasingly turned his attention to the role that character and presence play in the effectiveness of change practitioners and organizational leaders; Conner Academy serves leaders and practitioners seeking to “raise their game” through a focus on character and presence. In this post Daryl discusses character and presence more generally, encouraging us to consider the role our own character and presence plays whether we are leading, facilitating, or otherwise undergoing change.

There is a quote that “eighty percent of life is showing up.” While showing up is certainly important, it has become clear to me through my years of work in the field of change management that how we show up also plays a critical role both in our ability to influence and to lead others, and in how we experience change ourselves. At the root of how each of us shows up are our character and our presence.


Underneath what you do is who you are—not the values you espouse but may not live up to, not the habits you have acquired over the years, and not what you have learned to do or say so others will accept you. Character is what is left after all the trappings and illusions have been stripped away. It is here that your optimum impact resides. Of all the things you can draw on to create leverage with those around you, your true nature, the indigenous core of who you are, is your greatest asset.

  • The term character is impartial; it applies to both positive and negative elements of who we truly are. Your character is comprised of many components. Some promote favorable outcomes; others may not.
    • Positive components might include things such as devotion to serving others, commitment to honesty, and passion for the work.
    • The negative side to a person’s character might reflect such things as self- centeredness, manipulation, insecurity, etc.

Whether it advances or detracts from achieving change aspirations, character is a critical determinant of the value received from your efforts.

  • A positively oriented character brings life to your capabilities.
    • It operates as a filter applied to what we know and how we operate. By screening everything through our character, we infuse our unique state of being into our change work.
    • It is far more than the knowledge and competencies we’ve acquired—it influences how we inform decisions, guide actions, and whether or not we ultimately facilitate successful outcomes.
  • The knowledge and skills we use in executing change are actually neutral. We can employ the same techniques to connect with, or distance ourselves from those we interact with. The same concepts can generate clarity or add to confusion. The spin our character puts on these otherwise agnostic tools of change bends their impact toward either advantageous or adverse outcomes.
  • Character differentiates much more than the skills we use. Others can apply the same concepts and techniques, but no one can duplicate the outcomes we produce when our character interlaces with our words and actions. The secret sauce isn’t in our heads, it’s in our hearts.



A strong character, comprised of mostly positive components, is necessary, but insufficient, to be seen as high impact. Character is your true nature, your essence. As such, it is an internal phenomenon that is accessible only to yourself. Character is imbedded so deep within you that people don’t actually interact with it as much as they do with the presence your character projects. Your interior character needs a “voice” to be expressed to the exterior world. The presence you extend to others is that voice.

Presence is like a force field that you project when you express aspects of who you are. It is the temperament you emit that serves as the conduit through which your character comes. Beyond concepts and techniques, presence is another key pillar in your repertoire. Whenever you attempt to influence someone, you draw on not only what you say and do, but also on this reflection of who you are.

  • Presence is like a subliminal identity signature embedded within your interactions. It might fall into a broad category such as peaceful, hectic, accommodating, demanding, etc., but it also has a unique frequency that, when released, creates an ambient bubble like no other. Whether the exchanges are face-to-face, by phone, through email, or by text, interactions inside your “influence bubble” are distinctive to only you. Whether this bubble engenders a high or low regard for you by others directly affects the amount of influence you can exert.
  • The problem is that all the verbal and non-verbal communications inside this bubble are affected by our presence, yet most people pay little, if any, attention to its impact. We tend to think more about weight, hairstyle, and attire than we thank about our presence.
  • Just as not all aspects of character are conducive to success, presence also contributes to or detracts from whether you achieve your desired outcomes. When you emit a positive presence, it affects others in three ways.
  • People with a powerful, constructive presence are usually seen as having deep and passionate convictions. An effective presence is not a function of superficial façades or manipulated images. It’s an expression of one’s authentic being.
  • Presence brings with it an assuredness noticed by others. They sense when you believe you can and will achieve the change you set out to make.
  • Radiating a convincing presence can have the effect of penetrating the unconscious defenses people sometimes use to guard themselves against new thinking, challenges that appear beyond their reach, or interpretations other than their own.

The combination of definitiveness, self-confidence, and the ability to help people open themselves to new possibilities can have a compelling effect on what is seen as achievable.

When you transmit a clear, persuasive presence, your self-assurance and conviction often become contagious. While others may not agree with everything being stated, they are often drawn to the excitement, intrigue, and enthusiasm that can come from being around someone living their own truth.

Character, Presence, and You

Whether you are a change leader, practitioner, or are otherwise experiencing change; whether the change is professional or personal; showing up is necessary but not sufficient for achieving the greatest possible success. It is not enough to know what the desired outcome is and to have a plan for achieving it. Your character—who you are at the core—and your presence—how you show up—will play a significant role in both the change journey and the outcome.

Advocate Power!


webIf you want to discuss something discretely, who do you talk to? Chances are, it is not the same person as you talk to when you want to “spread the word.”

Advocates have tremendous power in supporting–or undermining–change both at the personal and the organizational level. Millennials rely heavily on advocacy; for them, in many cases the power of their social network is significantly greater than the power of positional authority. Social movements–whether it be civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, or any other–are all about advocacy. Lobbying carries advocacy into the halls of government.

While social movements and lobbyists are often highly successful in their advocacy, it is a resource that tends to be under-utilized in personal and organizational change. What would it take to make use of advocate power in these circumstances?

Successful advocacy begins with knowing who has influence with whom. Who talks? Who listens? We’re not referring to those that everyone seeks out for the latest gossip. Rather, we want to know who people talk to when they want insights into “what is really going on,” whether a pending change is a good idea or not, etc. Working at the personal level, this is something most of us are in touch with. I remember one client who told me, If I need to bring my dad onboard, I start with my mother. She can influence him in ways I never can do. But, she also doesn’t really talk with a lot of people, so if I want to ‘spread the word,’ I start with my good friend Jake. He talks with everyone, and when he talks, they all listen.

At the organizational level it is often more difficult to know who the advocates are. If your organization uses online communities, these can tell you a great deal. Who are the active participants? How are their posts responded to, and how broad an organizational reach do the responses reflect? Another useful tool is Organizational Network Analysis (ONA), sometimes referred to as Social Network Analysis (SNA). Very often these tools are highly academic in nature, and difficult to use. However, I have found one or two that are easily accessible, and that can provide powerful insights into who the real influencers are in an organization…More often than not, it isn’t who you think.

Some people are strong advocates across the board. Other people may be able to advocate on certain changes, but not on others, or with certain groups of people, but not others. Pay attention to this. Whether the change is personal or organizational, you may need different advocates to help with different stakeholders.

And what do you want them to advocate for?

Historically, many saw the role of advocates as seeking sponsorship of a change. “Mom, can you talk Dad into letting me stay out past curfew?” Or, “Honey, we really do need a new car, and this one…” Or, “If I can convince the boss to let us change how we execute this process we can free up time for some other things.”

But more and more, advocacy is about directly influencing people to make changes, whether personal, organizational, or social. By far the best book I have found on this topic is Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler (the authors of Crucial Conversations). According to the authors,

Influencers do three things better than others. They are clearer about the results they want to achieve and how they will measure them. They focus on a small number of vital behaviors that will help them achieve those results. They overdetermine change by amassing six sources of influence that both motivate and enable the vital behaviors.

The “six sources of influence” the authors reference take the form of a two-by-three matrix that addresses motivation and ability at the personal, social, and structural levels. They provide a number of case studies reflecting how the model has been successfully applied to personal change (e.g. in lowering school drop-out rates), organizational change (e.g. improving workplace safety), and social change (e.g. lowering poverty rates through micro-credit loans). Whenever possible, I advocate the use of their advocacy model. It works!

Do you intentionally use advocacy in your change efforts? How have you harnessed Advocate Power? Comment below.