Fear of failure can defeat success
Have you ever wondered why some people are so successful and others just seem to miss out?
Were they at the right place at the right time? Do they know the right people, did they start
All of the above may be true, in some instances, but there are lots of examples where none of these reasons apply.
What caused the success of a drycleaning business caught in the middle of the 1980s recession in Texas?
The drycleaner supported several family members, all actively involved in the business and totally dependent on the income from it. They continued to see piece counts drop, up to 30 percent of volume, and prices being cut by their competitors in the hopes of pushing up volume.
Contrary to the opinion of their peers at the time, they raised prices and improved their service levels. They cut costs where they could. They fought the desire to “follow the pack” and offer deep discounts. They survived. They rebuilt. It didn’t take additional capital to make these adjustments.
Luck was certainly not a part of it. What makes people not only hang in there but succeed in the face of such adversity? It isn’t just the 1980s recession, but the most recent downturn as well where we’ve seen this type of success in the face of pending disaster.
What caused the success of a small business in the midwest that drove two hours every morning just to pick up drycleaning from a plant that had been dried up, and back again for two hours to deliver at the end of the day?
They acted contrary to popular opinion and the opinion of their respected peers. They were told that it couldn’t be done; that volume would be lost with slower delivery times back to the customer; that they would be worse off for it.
But volume didn’t drop. In fact it increased with improved quality from the main plant. It didn’t take extra capital investment. It wasn’t based on who they knew or just being lucky. There was a lot of hard work involved. There was a conviction to succeed against some very steep odds.
These examples could have ended quite differently. Many operations have ceased to exist during similar challenges. The decisions to be made are so significant that fear often stops people from making the decisions altogether; to take the actions that may save their business; to move to the next level or try anything new and different. They freeze.
This lack of movement is a fear of failure even though failure may occur because of the fear itself.
We might feel some degree of fear every day. We avoid running the red light, even when we’re late, out of fear of getting caught by the police. We might not go camping in the woods during hunting season for fear of getting shot by those inexperienced hunters. These are real, well-founded fears, but fear stops us from doing something that we want or need to do.
We are fearful that our children may be hurt or harmed as they grow up and yet we eventually let them cross the street on their own, go to school without us, and leave for college. We have moved past our fears. Maybe because we had to, our spouse forced us to, or our children gave us no choice. Regardless of how we did it, we know it can be done.
The owners of businesses who have made changes over the years, just as parents letting go of their growing children, provide examples of courage.
In business, courage is one of several critical factors for a successful business owner. Courage is the ability to confront the fear, mental anguish, uncertainty, or intimidation. Courage is acting in spite of this fear.
Although there is no physical courage required in business where we may fear some sort of physical pain if we take a particular action, there is real “moral” courage which is “the ability to act in the face of popular opposition”.
You can see the results of these courageous acts throughout the drycleaning industry and from some of the most successful operators, particularly where innovation has occurred because innovation involves creating ground-
breaking, tradition-defying ideas.
Consider the original move to home delivery routes in the 1980s after they had disbanded 20 years earlier. This was a notion doomed to failure by popular opinion. After all, there were good reasons that large routes had been eliminated throughout the United States and been replaced by smaller, activated plants. Nevertheless, a few courageous business owners began to build home delivery routes and today it has become a mainstream distribution system for many drycleaners.
The first 24/7 conveyor installed in the United States had competitors laughing. It was too long, too slow, too high and too expensive, but the owner persisted and today it is one of the options considered by most new stores when designing the entrance to the front of the shop.
Successful business owners are a varied lot. Some are rational. Some are emotional. Some may be considered great leaders. Some are loved by employees and respected. Others aren’t. Courage is only one characteristic of a successful operator.
Courage is not, in and of itself, good or bad. It is neutral. The road taken can be right or wrong, good or bad. Have courageous people made mistakes? Absolutely. It is taking the action that reflects the act of courage. Courage, itself, will not determine success.
Wikipedia distinguishes three types of courage.
“TRY Courage: The courage of initiative and action — making first attempts, pursuing pioneering efforts and stepping up to the plate.”
We’ve seen plenty of these examples in the drycleaning industry.
“TRUST Courage: The courage of confidence in others — letting go of the need to control situations or outcomes, having faith in people and being open to direction and change.”
Most of the larger organizations have moved to this level with delegation of duties and responsibilities although there is generally great fear and trepidation before letting go. In fact, growth is not possible without some form of delegation.
“TELL Courage: The courage of voice — raising difficult issues, providing tough feedback and sharing unpopular opinions.”
This may be one of the most difficult types of courage — to confront conflict rather than avoid it in order to pursue your goals. Many business examples involve employee relations.
How does one start? Fear is an invitation to courage. What happened to the owner who knew his plant location was going to be torn down for a new strip mall? The looming tragedy caused fear in his heart. Sleepless nights ensued.
Fear is the opposite of courage. It can be so great that movement of any kind becomes impossible. It is the courage that steps in to take the action. The action could be right or wrong. Courage does not guarantee success, only movement.
It takes courage to break from the norm — to try something different.
It takes courage to challenge the status quo — disagree with your peers.
It takes courage to seek new opportunities where the chance of making a mistake as you enter new and unknown horizons is high.
It takes courage to cut your losses, admitting your previous mistakes.
It seems that nothing new can be accomplished without courage.
Ultimately, we are remembered for the decisions we make or those that we don’t make.
Deborah Rechnitz has been an independent management consultant to drycleaning industry members since 1980. She also held the position of chief operating officer of one of the largest USA drycleaning operations in 2008. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance and Personnel Administration; a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interpersonal Com-
munications; and an MBA in Operations Management from Case Western Reserve University. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at (253) 405-7043.