There’s a definite difference between focusing on not failing versus striving for success.

When we focus on not failing, fear rents most of the space in our mind, and we see monsters in need of slaying everywhere we turn. We lose track of the original vision that propelled our actions, and the sheer act of working becomes at best a passionless exercise and at worst, drudgery.

Lousy Leaders Achieve “Not Failing” at a High Price:

Sadly, many leaders provide fuel for the “don’t fail” machine through their actions.

Show me a project team or functional group that exhibit all of the energy and passion of a collection of late-night television zombies, and I’ll guarantee there’s one or more dysfunctional and often micro-managing leaders at the source of this environmental problem.

Often, these leaders are motivated by some perverse view that success comes from not having their name associated with screwing up.  As a result, their every motivation is to make certain you and your co-workers achieve that objective.  While they may succeed in helping their teams navigate the issues of “not failing,” these leaders suck the life out of their teams in the process.

The Scarlet “F”

The “don’t fail” disease isn’t limited to the corporate world. I know small business owners and solopreneurs who have stepped into this gooey emotional muck during the past few years of economic unpleasantness. Instead of lessons-learned serving as fuel for problem solving and innovation, setbacks are worn for all to see as Scarlet F’s, where F stands for failure. Of course, what they forget is that no one can really see the Scarlet F’s unless they go out of their way to show them off.

Remember, You Own Your Attitude:

Striving not to fail is like walking up to take your turn at bat when the only thought running through your mind is, “don’t strike out.” The last two words, “strike out” are all that you remember as you flail wildly at everything thrown your way.

If you’re caught up in an environment where an evil leader holds court, remember that you still own your attitude. While it’s not easy to escape the fog of uncertainty and doubt created by these characters, it’s unlikely that their attempts at mind control can survive in a pitched battle against your own good attitude.

If you are your own boss and you feel weighted down and exposed by the Scarlet F’s you believe you are carrying around with you, it’s critical to rediscover the feelings of excitement, hope and opportunity that likely propelled you off on your own in the first place.

Rediscover or Reset Your Sense of Purpose:

Somewhere buried beneath the baggage and stress of the past few years, you had a sense of purpose that fueled your efforts. Whether it was providing for others or an intense desire to change the world, it’s important to scrape off the muck and recall that sense of greater mission.

Of course, we change over time, and what fueled us at one phase of life may not be so relevant at another stage. I know many people who have recharged their lives and their work as professionals by resetting their sense of purpose from a focus on success to an emphasis on making a difference for someone or some group.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It’s easy to focus on failure or on the pursuit of not failing. It’s a lot more fun, it’s a lot healthier and it darned well is a lot more inspiring to rationalize our efforts and actions and combat our demons in the context of our bigger purpose.

Those who focus on success see victory around every corner.  They view obstacles and setbacks as minor challenges to be overcome on a longer journey towards something worthwhile.

No one can take away your sense of purpose, unless you let them. Focus your gaze clearly on the bigger picture and longer term, take a deep breath and then take the first step forward. You’ll quickly remember that steps taken with a purpose in mind are effortless.

Now, keep moving.