Realize when you are creating a story about a possible outcome that may or may not be true. Instead, think “what would a camera record right now? Is this a story or actual data?” For example, the stories we write when somebody texts us “we need to talk.” How many of us immediately think “what have I done wrong?” Yet in my experience, often it has nothing to do with me, and the other person is looking for support from a friend or a colleague.
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 experiences of “Becoming Free From the Fear of Failure.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lee Povey.
Lee Povey is the CEO and Founder of Maximize Your Potential Coaching, as well as the Co-Founder of Coaches Soul. As a previous elite cycling athlete and Olympic Development Program Coach for USA Cycling, and from coaching hundreds of World, National, and Olympic champions, Lee understands the importance of World-Class leadership. Lee’s mission as a leadership coach is to empower and support leaders, executives, and elite coaches in achieving their leadership and life goal potential.
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’?
As a teenager, I competed on the GB national team as a track sprint cyclist, but I quickly realized I wasn’t quite going to be world-class. I moved into a professional career starting with real estate for a large company. Through this experience, I learned a lot about human beings under stress and started honing my understanding of world-class leadership. I came to the realization that real estate was not my passion and sold my company to pursue a career in sports coaching. Over a 15-year period, I developed a highly successful private cycling coaching business and ended up creating and leading the Olympic development track cycling program for USA cycling. I’ve taken these amazing experiences and developed into an executive and leadership coach working with high-achieving founders, CEOs, and start-ups.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When I was in real estate, I would pass clients to a financial advisor, and I was the most successful at referring clients to the financial advisor. One time out of curiosity, the financial advisor asked their client what made them take my referral. Their response was that they felt comfortable with me and trusted my judgment. What this taught me was the importance of integrity, transparency, and honesty when working with clients. Any business relationship is a people relationship. You don’t need to lie or be dishonest to sell or create great relationships.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Strong desire to look at my own personal growth and self-responsibility. — When in conflict with others, my first thoughts are “What is my role in this conflict? What is a win for all? What is the kindest version of me at this moment in time?” This has been instrumental to my success as a leadership coach because it allows me to have empathy for others, create long-lasting relationships, and grow closer through conflict rather than more distant.
- It’s my job to meet the people I lead where they are at. — Often you will hear people say, “This is my natural leadership style”. In my opinion, this approach is stunted because they think they can only work with people that fit their specific leadership style. In my experience, the best leaders are the most adaptable and tailor themselves to best meet and understand what their staff and colleagues need to be their most successful versions of themselves.
- Not being afraid to make tough decisions — I work with a “what is best for all?” mentality. This may mean firing someone because it would be better for them, in the long run, to be doing something that suits them better.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main 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?
People are so afraid of failure because humans are good at creating “stories” about what may happen in the future. Now, this is an evolutionary trait to make us weary of our surroundings and new things, however, in the modern world, we’re experiencing much less danger and this fear of the unknown only tends to hold us back.
What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?
Firstly, do we even know we will fail? Often, these stories aren’t based on reality, and we tend to imagine situations to be worse than they turn out to be. When we do this, we’re not actually basing our decisions and choices on data, but instead, our interpretation of the worst-case scenario. This tends to cause people to be wary of trying new things or pushing their limits and boundaries because of this exaggerated story of what may happen.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the free of failure can help improve our lives?
The first switch I encourage my clients to do is to look at everything as a learning opportunity instead of a right/wrong situation or fork in the road. If we approach everything as a learning opportunity, there are no wrong choices. Even something that may turn out to be wrong can teach us when we would like a different outcome and to do things in a different way next time.
We would love to hear your story about your experience dealing with failure. Would you be able to share a story about that with us?
My home cycling track, Preston Park in Brighton, is an unusual cycling track that necessitates being first into the last corner to win. This meant it was vital to start your sprint early and beat everybody to that last corner. However, this is the opposite of how you want to ride many other tracks. When I was younger, I was so attached to the ego of winning, that I was unwilling to try different tactics at my home track that may have been unsuccessful there, leading me to lose. Being more open-minded would have accelerated my ability to race and be adaptable to a wider variety of tracks. It took me longer to win national and international titles because of my unwillingness to experiment and possibly lose at my home track.
How did you rebound and recover after that? What did you learn from this whole episode? What advice would you give to others based on that story?
In 2010, I broke my shoulder in four places in a bad cycling crash, one week before the national championships, which I was the strong favorite to win. This made me re-evaluate my relationship with sport, as it took me a year to rehab and be able to train and race properly again. During this rehab process, I came to the realization that winning wasn’t enough, and instead, I needed to fully enjoy the whole process. Thus, allowing me to let go of any outcome and instead, focus on the process and becoming a more well-rounded athlete. This changed my coaching philosophy and now I advise people to focus on themselves and the process and let go of the outcome. If we do everything to the best of our ability, the outcome will take care of itself, and we will get the result we deserve.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. 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.
- Realize when you are creating a story about a possible outcome that may or may not be true. Instead, think “what would a camera record right now? Is this a story or actual data?” For example, the stories we write when somebody texts us “we need to talk.” How many of us immediately think “what have I done wrong?” Yet in my experience, often it has nothing to do with me, and the other person is looking for support from a friend or a colleague.
- Will this matter in 6 weeks, 6 months, or 6 years? Often things can feel overwhelmingly important and large in the moment, yet on reflection, a few weeks, months, or years later we’ve completely forgotten about it. Steve Jobs, who was originally fired by his own company, Apple, worked on himself and his leadership skills to come back and lead it to become the most successful company in the world.
- Focus on the process, not the outcome. While it can be attractive to think about the outcome that we want, success is about executing daily processes that lead to accomplishing much bigger goals. For example, elite athletes can’t just win an Olympic gold medal because they wanted to. Instead, they work hard on executing and completing the training needed to turn up at the Olympic games, capable of winning that gold medal. Often this training and practice can look very different from the end gold medal-winning product.
- Understand that everything in life is a learning opportunity. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” “Great success is built on failure, frustration, even catastrophe.” Albert Einstein did not speak until he was 4 years old and did not read until he was 7, yet he overcame every adversity he was faced with.
- Learn to take yourself less seriously. Failure is very rarely life-threatening. It’s okay to fail, the world’s very best businesspeople and sports people have failed multiple times before they were successful. All of them knew that this was part of the process and were able to smile and keep trying. As mentioned above, when I broke my shoulder, I learned I had to find joy in the process and let go of my joy being linked to the outcome. This allowed everything to feel less serious and for me to have way more enjoyment and satisfaction from the small steps along the way to the greater successes.
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 do you think Aristotle really meant?
In my experience as both an elite sports coach and now, a leadership coach, I’ve seen people achieve success in many ways. I’ve seen two people do the same thing, one be successful and one fail. What I routinely see in those that are successful is the level of grit and perseverance and the ability to get back up after what others would consider failure. Instead, the great view these setbacks as merely learning opportunities.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The acceptance that most people are doing the best they can with what they have. While it may seem like people are deliberately trying to get in your way, be mean, or make life harder for you, it’s just them living the best they can with the toolset that they have. From this place, my wife has great advice: Do you want to be right? Or would you like to be kind? I ponder this every day and it reminds me to choose kindness over pointing out someone else’s mistakes, failures, or shortcomings. This has a huge relational impact and I think we could all do with some more kindness right now!
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 🙂
While he may be a fictional character, if it was possible, I’d love to have lunch with the main character in the TV show, Ted Lasso. He has inspired me in his ability to see the best and good in others and frankly, spending time with him would allow more of that ability to rub off on me.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Visit my company websites at www.mypcoaching.org and www.coachessoul.com.
Add me on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/leepovey/.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.