Do you hold yourself back from success?

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“Whenever I’m in a meeting and I think of a question or comment, I end up arguing with myself about whether or not to say it… then five minutes later someone else says what I’m thinking, and it leads to a great discussion. I could kick myself when that happens!”

This is a challenge described by many of my clients, both men and women alike, and it stems from a lack of confidence on a variety of possible levels. But regardless of the origin, the outcome is the same: you hold yourself back from being recognized for your insights, expertise and overall value to the team.

So why does this happen, and what can you do about it?

The late, great sales guru, Zig Ziglar, had a great saying that has stuck with me from the first time I read it in one of his books many years ago. He said that you have to ask yourself, “Is your fear of failure greater than your desire to succeed?”

That hit me right between the eyes.

The short answer is that, for people who typically hold back as described above, their default answer, often subconsciously, is a resounding “YES.” That’s why they hold back.

At times, we all have doubts, and frankly there are some people who could stand to filter their thoughts and hold back a bit more from time to time instead of blurting out everything that comes to mind. But that’s an issue for another post.

What is most powerful to me is the thought process you inevitably go through if you actually ask yourself that question when you find yourself holding back. And if you’re someone who holds back more often than not, you need to do it. That’s because it actually leads to two deeper and more concrete questions to help you regain confidence and take action:

The first is, how would you define “failure” in that situation, and what’s the worst thing that could happen if you did “fail”? Does failure mean that people ignored what you said because they thought it wasn’t important? Maybe it means you could make a mistake, share wrong information or demonstrate ignorance. And what would be the repercussions of one of those situations? I highly doubt that you could lose your job, be removed from the project or account, get chastised in pubic, take a major hit to your reputation, or die of embarrassment. More likely, the worst that would happen is that you might get corrected in public. You’ve certainly heard others make contributions that were not received with open arms; what happened to them? Most likely, nothing.

The second key question is, how would you define “success” in the same context? Of course, you wouldn’t expect the boss to throw a party or give you an immediate raise; success could be simply a matter of knowing you made a valuable contribution to the discussion. Maybe your idea provides a critical piece that will help the group to problem-solve more efficiently. What is certain, in the success context, is that you show yourself to be a valuable, proactive member of a team, and it might put you on someone’s radar, in the good way.

Also, remember that those best and worst case scenarios are based on you actually speaking up. A third question that gets overlooked is, “What is the effect of silence on my part?” Again, holding back judiciously from time to time is probably appreciated by most people. But when your reputation in those meetings is of someone who is non-participatory, playing it “safe” and hiding in self-defense mode unless forced to speak, is that really the leadership image you want to create?

And just in case you were about to play the “introvert” card, stop right there. That excuse won’t work. Introversion is not about fear of public speaking, confidence or general shyness. It’s about how you get energized, and what takes energy from you. Don’t mistake being an introvert – assuming you genuinely are one – with being hesitant to ask a question or offer a comment in a team meeting.

So the next time you recognize that you are holding back, do two things: First, decide what you want your leadership reputation to be. Then ask yourself: “Is my fear of failure greater than my desire to succeed?”


Do you have questions or comments about the issues in today’s post, want to know how to apply the solutions, or how to help others overcome these challenges? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!

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