Remind yourself that you’re a winner every day and work on your mindset. You are not just a survivor; you are a warrior. Don’t have a victim mentality. You are what you project yourself to be. Setbacks are imperative to your journey; winning is an attitude. Having a hunger to win is extremely important.
The Fear of Failure is one of the most common restraints that holds people back from pursuing great ideas. Imagine if we could become totally free from the fear of failure. Imagine what we could then manifest and create. In this interview series, we are talking to leaders who can share stories and insights from their experience about “Becoming Free from the Fear of Failure.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dr. Akintoye Akindele, co-author of the book “A Love Affair with Failure: When Hitting Bottom Becomes a Launchpad for Success.”
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
My name is Dr. Akintoye Akindele. I am an investor, teacher, student of life, hope merchant, star gazer, and a servant of grace. I am the founder and chairman of Platform Capital — a growth markets focused, sector agnostic, principal investment and advisory firm that deploys patient, value accretive capital alongside international and local investors to create champion businesses with the potential for regional and global scale. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering with honors from the Obafemi Awolowo University and received a doctorate degree in Business Administration (Finance) from the International School of Management — Paris, France. I am a CFA Charterholder, a Fellow of the Institute of Credit Administrators and a faculty member of the Business School of the University of Lagos. I am passionate about creating a better Africa for future generations.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or takeaways you learned from that?
There have been several defining moments throughout the course of my career. Upon reflection, I have concluded that there is a common element in those defining moments which makes this question very interesting. At every stage of my career and especially at critical points, the outcome of decisions that seem scary while taking those bold steps have always pleasantly surprised as opposed to disappointed. My key takeaways from those points are that you must trust the process and believe in the magic of new beginnings. I encourage people to take advantage of opportunities with full intent, appetite, commitment, and the knowledge that failure (or better put, failing) is inevitable during the process but the outcome is mostly positive. I found that when I don’t commit myself to the cause of action, that’s when the potential for not attaining my desired outcome or surpassing it exists. Once I give everything to it, once I commit to it, and invest in detailed planning, preparation and resourcing, things usually work out. In one of my published articles I speak about the difference between being ready and being prepared. I’m always prepared. I live in a constant state of preparation, but I’m only ready when I am ready to execute with laser focus. Because being ready is different from being prepared. So again, it’s a matter of trusting the process, believing in new beginnings, and always being prepared for opportunities. At every point in time, I’m prepared, but being ready then means I’m able to execute. So I’ll plan, I will check, I’ll think, but I execute. And once I execute, I don’t go back.
You’re a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were the most instrumental to your success?
There are several traits common in successful leaders, but I will highlight some. First is authenticity. You must be authentic. You must know yourself. You must know your capabilities. You must know who you are, what you want. I think when you’re authentic, you’re natural. You can’t always worry about people’s expectations of you. You must worry about what your expectations for yourself are. Therefore, knowing oneself and being true to oneself is extremely important in leading other people. You cannot lead people when you don’t have a very strong sense and knowledge of self.
Another key trait is investing time in knowing the team. I’m not sure you can lead anybody who you don’t know. I think a lot of people don’t spend enough time getting to know the “being” behind the human. I believe leading comes with knowing the people you work with and realizing that people evolve. Because I know you today does not mean that you are going to be the same person tomorrow. A leader must leave room for his teammate’s evolution. I think getting to know the people you are working with, that you are leading, is as critical as knowing yourself.
The third trait is knowing how to follow. A good leader must also be a better follower. I think leadership is about setting goals and direction and letting the people you are leading go ahead, and you position yourself to pick up after them when they drop the ball. A good leader must be good at picking up the balls after those that he is leading. That is: set direction, set the journey, set the goals, set the parameters, and let people get on with executing that. You then stay behind and pick up the balls as they drop, because good people drop balls. Great people drop fewer balls but when they do, it can be very significant, so you must be there at those critical points.
Now let’s shift the focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the concept of becoming free from failure. Let’s zoom in a bit from your experience. Why exactly are people so afraid of failure? Why is failure so frightening to us?
I think people are afraid of failure for quite a few reasons. One of them is the stigma that is associated with failure. You almost feel like failure is a bad thing, because failure happens in comparison to some reference or yard stick. When you say you have failed, that means you understand what passing is. Most times, failure happens when someone else is setting the goal for another person. I strongly believe that for failure to exist, there must be a reference point set by somebody else. It’s then a matter of perception or opinion that you have failed, and you are then submitting yourself to that person’s expectations. So, when you then fail that person’s expectations, in their eyes, you are not good enough. That is the stigma of failure — “not good enough” because this person thinks I’m not good enough. Because I said I could do it and I did not meet that expectation.
The second reason people are afraid is because of education. The way education has been taught over the last few hundred years has been that you need to pass an exam to get to the next level. When you don’t pass that exam, you have failed. And again, if you don’t pass that exam, you don’t move forward to the next class. You are kept on the same level for another period. It feels like you’ve lost time and every other person moved on except you. You feel different because everybody moved forward. In that scenario you have failed. People like Galileo and Van Gogh were considered failures while they were alive, but celebrated as successful in death. That means the accepted definition of failure is time dependent and contextual when one uses other people’s expectations.
Thirdly, I believe failure happens when people don’t know themselves enough. They let other people set for them targets and goals that they then define themselves by that yardstick. You cannot pass anybody’s exam unless they tell you how to pass or allow you to pass. And even when you pass, is that really you passing or their expectations being met? It’s all third-party mechanisms for setting success in modern day living. And that’s why people are afraid. They have not taken a step back to ask themselves: “Why is this good for me? Why do I want it?” Even when you are differently abled you are not inferior. And inferiority means that something is superior so who is defining superiority? It must be you. And again, because the whole world is built on other people’s benchmarks, a lot of people are not independent. They’ve not taken ownership of their lives. When you take ownership of your life, you understand that even the concept of good and bad itself is relative. You must celebrate the uniqueness of self — defining one’s ambition by one’s own understanding and one’s abilities. Being different, being unique, does not mean you have failed.
What are the downsides of being afraid of failure, how can it limit people?
When you are afraid of failure, you don’t take chances. It kills your curiosity; you don’t innovate, and the fear makes you afraid of going after what you want the most. Fulfillment disappears, you conform and become bitter, and you don’t know yourself. Everything in life enjoyed today was born out of ideas or efforts that were labeled failure at some point in time. Not being curious, ideating and trying all the things you are meant to do. When you allow the fear of failure to limit you, it means you’re only existing and not living.
In your opinion, what are 5 steps that everyone can take to become free from the fear of failure”? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Remind yourself that you’re a winner every day and work on your mindset. You are not just a survivor; you are a warrior. Don’t have a victim mentality. You are what you project yourself to be. Setbacks are imperative to your journey; winning is an attitude. Having a hunger to win is extremely important.
2. Be extremely obsessed with knowledge. Seek, find, embrace, and digest it. Knowledge is extremely important for winning in war, battles, and relationships. Knowledge helps you appraise your variables; it makes you understand your challenges and your strengths and weaknesses. It makes you plan. Knowledge is not just formalized education, it’s purposeful education.
3. Understand the law of wasted efforts; 30% is your best probability of winning. That is the success ratio in life, and the remaining 70% can be seen as lost (waste) or progress (manure). If you want to win three things, go for 10, and if you want to win 10 things go for 30. A lot of people confuse having options and probabilities to not being focused. It is not the same. You can apportion efforts to priorities based on the researched and informed likelihood of results preferred. The saying “Jack of all trades, master of none” has let people become wary of multi strategy and optionality. The saying is actually not complete. The full saying is “Jack of all trades and master of none but oftentimes better than master of none.” The law of wasted efforts is a great principle to adopt. You must practice intentionality when it comes to going after what you want. Go for the big swings — the ones that give you the best outcome irrespective of the odds. Things might not go your way 70% of the time, but when it does, make it count, own it and dominate it.
4. Realize life is a construct — it’s as real as you decide. Pick your battles and wars. I can only fail if I compete with you on your terms. If I compete with myself on my own terms, I can’t. A very strong knowledge of self, knowing who you are and why you are here, is very important.
5. Don’t stop. You only fail when you stop. Keep moving and going. Failure is impossible when you’re in motion. Magic is promised; it happens. It takes several iterations and keeps getting better. This is only possible if you do not stop. Keep at it.
The famous Greek Philosopher Aristotle once said, it is possible to fail in many ways while to succeed is possible only in one way …based on your experience have you found this quote to be true. What did he really mean?
What Aristotle said has two different angles/perspectives. First, you can only fail if you quit. People confuse quitting with failing. Quitting means you have given up. You can only fail when you quit, because quitting means it’s the end. You’ve defined an end… but once you keep going you can’t fail as there is no end.
Secondly, once you define the terms of failure, then only you can fail yourself. You control your outcome. You can only fail if you meet those parameters for failure that you, or others, have set for yourself. Make it about yourself! Your strengths, knowledge of yourself and limits. You can’t fail unless you want to.
That’s the story of my life, I have had several setbacks at various points, but longer term, I keep winning. You can only jump when you bend. I bend to jump up. The bending is as important as the height I get to when I jump. The lower I bend, the higher the height when I jump. Everything moving forward has been drawn back at some point. I know that I can only move forward long term. The mentality of moving forward and winning — it’s all in your mind.
I’ve already given you two ways you can “fail.” Success on the other hand is only possible one way, and that is never quitting. Never giving up. Once you stop, you are essentially saying, “I am forfeiting my potential success” and the story ends there.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that will bring change to the world, what will it be?
BLACK is a vibe! I truly believe this. It’s time to renew our thinking. BLACK is the future and stands for: Brothers’ keeper, Loyalty, Authenticity, Capacity, Knowledge. Everyone on this planet should catch the BLACK vibe.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Keanu Reeves. His dedication to his craft, concept of giving and life is pure, and his simplicity is elegant and beautiful.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can connect with me on social media and my personal website:
LinkedIn: Dr. Akintoye Akindele
Thank you for sharing so many valuable insights with us today!