Sponsoring Away Fear

Fear of failure is undeniably a powerful thing. It can be a great motivator when channeled in a positive way. It also can be so destructive that it gets in the way of clear and logical thinking, which distracts some women from appropriate risk/reward determinations in the workplace. Being too fearful means acting too conservatively. Being too fearful means missing out on developmental experiences. Being too fearful becomes a vicious compounding cycle that is hard to break.

I have seen far too many women, rife with insecurity and lacking faith in their value and contributions, fall victim to the “fear cycle.” This manifests itself in job opportunities seen as “too much of a stretch” or assignments perceived to be beyond their skill set.

There is no question that when we are comfortable, confident, calm, and focused, we make the best decisions for ourselves and for our companies. And the demeanor that naturally comes along with that state of mind is one that others gravitate to.

So how can women who struggle with fear of failure become more confident, self-assured, and courageous, so they can reach their true potential? My advice is to secure a sponsor. Not a friend or a mentor, but a true sponsor who will get to know and advocate for her, and tell the truth about her capabilities and potential. Sponsoring is a specific form of mentoring in which “the mentor goes beyond giving feedback and advice and uses his or her influence with senior executives to advocate for the mentee” (Harvard Business Review, September 2010). The sponsor would coach her on how to position herself and help her build a network so that she can develop. This kind of support can make a real difference for those who fear.

I currently co-sponsor Honeywell’s Women’s Advancement Program, which links women to senior-level sponsors in a year-long program focused skill building, networking, and sponsorship. The sponsors help the women broaden their networks, develop their leadership skills, and advance their careers. They also help the women share what they stand for, how they get work done, what makes them unique, and what results people can expect from them. While the program is only five months old, feedback so far is that these women feel valued and, because they have this support, they are beginning to overcome any fears they may have of failing.