The power of fearlessness in leadership
In Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge, Warren Bennis shares something he calls the “Wallenda factor,” named after the great tightrope aerialist Karl Wallenda. Every time Wallenda took to the tightrope, Bennis remarks, his life was at risk. Yet he never thought about failure. Things go wrong, but “a mistake is just another way of doing things.”
Shortly after Wallenda fell to his death in 1978 — while traversing a 75-foot-high wire in San Juan, Puerto Rico — his wife, also an aerialist, noted that this was the first time that she remembered him ever worrying about falling. “He seemed to put all his energies into not falling rather than walking the tightrope,” she said.
Fear of failure makes you focus on limiting risks instead of focusing on maximizing an opportunity for success. So don’t get conservative! And you do catch yourself fearing failure, immediately focus on the positive. After Coach Ray Meyer led DePaul University’s basketball team to 42 consecutive years of winning seasons and a winning streak of 29 games, he said, “Now we can start concentrating on winning, not on not losing.”
The Wallenda factor is basically about learning, since all learning involves some failure. The goal is to try, explore and do better — not focus on failure. As one leader once said, “If I have an art form of leadership, it is to make as many mistakes as quickly as I can in order to learn.”