There are many things that are common for leaders in the B2B business space: they’re usually huge advocates for their brand, they might be really honing in on thought leadership pieces on LinkedIn to drive engagement, and they’re probably busy thinking of ways to grow their business’ organic sourced revenue. But there’s something else that’s incredibly common among B2B leaders: a nagging and consistent fear of failing.

Here are the SparkNotes on the point we’re about to drive home: while the fear of failure in business is definitely warranted, it can be wholly unhelpful, and even detrimental to business growth. Instead, leaders should be prepared for setbacks, should learn to embrace them, and should even (dare we say it) revel in failure.

But to address the elephant in the room, fear of failure is certainly warranted in business. Data tells us that these days, about 20% of new businesses fail within their first two years, while 65% fail during the first 10 years. The kicker? Just a quarter of new businesses are still swinging after 15 years or more. 

So sure, a fear of failing is certainly justifiable. But there’s a difference between understanding the probability of failure and using it as a catalyst for unbridled success, and letting that fear of failing inhibit growth.

A fear of failure can ruin a business

While a fear of failure can be incredibly common (impacting more than 40% of entrepreneurs in the US alone), it’s not one to be ignored, because of the impact it can have. In his book The Alchemist, author Paulo Coelho hits the nail on the head, writing “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” 

Why exactly can a fear of failure ruin a business? When leaders have a fear of failing, they might be hesitant to launch big ideas, neglect to make waves in their space (and stand out from their competition), and might be slow to adopt critical change. Instead of taking chances which lead to incredible new products, vast expansions, and ceiling-shattering results, a fear of failing can lead to slow decisions, “safe” (i.e. boring) choices which aren’t exciting to customers, and can put organizations in a place where they’re playing catch up to those around them.

As RevenueZen founder & chairman Alex Boyd recently wrote, “I’ve always believed that my own personal growth is the main limiting factor in our companies’ growth. Can I stretch and flex enough to break old patterns of thinking that no longer serve me?”

When it comes to business success, tackling a personal fear of failing matters, as does picking yourself back up when failure does rear its head. 

Knowing when to pivot

For entrepreneurs and business leaders, there’s nothing quite like the moment when you have that unfortunate ah-hah, and you realize an idea is not playing out how you intended. Whether it’s a slow death or a speedy crash-and-burn, it can still be difficult to let go of ideas, plans, initiatives, and just about anything else related to your business that isn’t working out. But knowing when to pivot can be critical in mitigating risks of failure.

Think about it like this: you launch a new feature, and before you know it, you notice it’s not playing out like you hope. Do you invest more resources (including money + human power) into trying to save the feature and ensure its success, or do you cut your losses and pivot to a new idea?

The choice is always yours, and yours alone. But the key is to master recognizing when you should invest in saving a failing idea or venture, and when you should simply let it go the way of the dinosaur. 

Learning resilience

There’s an unfortunate reality that comes with being an entrepreneurial leader: failure is bound to happen at one point or another. Whether it’s a big idea or a small one, a hefty investment or a drop in the bucket, failure is bound to happen when you’re trying new things, working to break barriers, and using innovation as a driving force for your work. That’s because you’re not only doing what’s “safe” and proven to be effective – you’re looking to achieve next-level success that is sustainable. 

So, instead of fearing failure (which as we just said, is simply bound to happen), you can focus on learning resilience. Don’t forget, data tells us that founders who have had a failed business venture before have a greater chance of success than first-time founders. 

How exactly can you learn resilience when it comes to your business? You can focus on your own leadership skills, cultivate a growth mindset (both personally, and when it comes to your organization), and learn to actually acknowledge failure.

Acknowledging “failure” and learning from it

Failure can be a fickle thing. Even for the most mindful, humble, and well-prepared business leaders, admitting failure can be far easier said than done. But here’s the thing: failure, business setbacks, and otherwise “negative” business experiences can be a powerful catalyst for change, because they can teach business leaders what actually needs to be done in order to succeed. But in order to learn these mission-critical lessons from failure, leaders have to start with one little baby step: acknowledging failure. 

Acknowledging failure is key, because it’s the first step in actually moving forward, and absorbing the valuable lessons from the failure. If you’re still clutching onto an idea, trying to revive it, and holding onto hope that it’ll suddenly turn a corner, you’re not going to be prepared to learn lessons from its demise. 

Navigating negative feelings

In order to successfully overcome a fear of failing and find inspiration in your setbacks as a leader, you’ll likely need to learn how to navigate negative feelings. Of course, it makes sense to experience negative feelings after a business failure, and leaders can feel a range of (very human) emotions, such as stress, anxiety, decreased productivity, and slipping motivation.

Taking steps to navigate negative feelings is shown to make a difference. Research tells us that being able to regulate emotions (including negative ones) is something of a “master skill,” and that “emotion regulation is a key competence demonstrated by successful leaders.”

In short: being able to navigate negative feelings and emotions is central to pivoting when failure does occur, to learning from the failure, and to keeping your team afloat during times of failure.

Keeping a team motivated during transition

Failure can be tough for leaders, entrepreneurs, and their businesses to navigate. But these experiences can also lead to times of transition which can be challenging for employees. To revisit our example from earlier, if a newly-launched feature is deemed unsalvageable and you need to pivot, it’s not only you that needs to pivot. Your entire team will need to transition away from one idea, and towards a new idea.

What this means for leaders is that you need to not only keep yourself afloat during times of failure. Instead, you need to still act with your team in mind, and find ways to keep them motivated as well.

How can you keep your team motivated during transitions? You should practice transparency and open communication, so your team feels connected and in-the-loop. You should provide support resources to team members who need them (such as upskilling programs to retrain team members who need to be reassigned, or providing necessary information about new efforts), and celebrating wins, so your team doesn’t feel dejected by the failure.

Finding Different Paths to Success

Here’s the thing about success: there’s rarely ever just one way to get there. That’s why when we’re talking about a fear of failure, we’re talking about “pivoting” to new ideas, instead of quitting altogether. While this might seem like a common-sense response to leaders, it’s important to dig into why this is common sense. And the why is that there are infinite ways leaders can achieve the success they’re looking for.

More often than not, success is not linear. It typically even requires pivoting, ups and downs, different iterations, and taking things milestone-by-milestone. Developing this perspective of success, while taking steps to mitigate a debilitating fear of failure, can ensure that leaders use setbacks as a catalyst for future successes. 

Growth often looks like failure in disguise.

Failure can be uncomfortable. It can be irritating. And it can even bring big financial implications. But it’s important to remember that failure is often a key component to achieving growth. If we’re not failing, it means we’re not taking innovative steps, we’re failing to execute new ideas, and that we’re not breaking boundaries. And these are key components to a wildly successful business venture. 

We deeply understand the fear of failing in business, because we work tirelessly to help businesses accelerate their organic growth, and achieve the success they dream about. If you’re interested in using our B2B organic growth marketing strategies to break records when it comes to organic-sourced revenue, contact us today.

Jake is the Growth Manager at RevenueZen. He works with a number of entrepreneurial clients to help them tell their personal stories as it relates to their professional brands. He has three cats, loves bread, and is a pop singer under the name Jame Doe.