On combating ‘fear of success’


Some of the individuals on my team may suffer from “fear of success.” I think that may be the reason people aren’t stepping up to bigger opportunities, but how can I tell if that’s what it is, and how can I help?

Dear Thoughtful Leader,

Good place to question language. “Fear of success” is an “umbrella term” that doesn’t really get at anything. It is an interpretation. In other words, a fly on the wall couldn’t see it. I would recommend a coaching session with your potential stars to get specifics.

There could be many reasons people may not want to step up to the plate that you will not be able to change. They may already feel overwhelmed and not have the courage to admit it, could have problems away from work, they may have something they don’t want you to discover or the hours and commitment required doesn’t work for them.

There is another reason people may not step forward. If they have been one of a group of team members for a while, often people feel they aren’t worthy to abandon the others or lose long-standing relationships.

I encourage leaders to get their good people to see what they may not see in order to “loose the noose” of the past. For example:

  • Get them to look at their professional life as something they can either protect or create.
  • Take them to the future. Would they have any regrets looking back by maintaining the status quo in order to not upset others?
  • Working with integrity will build relationships.
  • Encourage them to focus on what they do want rather than what they don’t want.

Belonging is a powerful aphrodisiac. If you can paint a future that excites them, they may be willing to leave the status quo behind and embrace a new adventure


This business advice column speaks to the soulful side of business. It is designed for companies and individuals that want to excel, stand out, and realize ROWM: A Return on What Matters. It is based on the book from the business superhero The Profit Prophet. Please send your questions (which may be anonymous) to