The 41st annual Banished Words List is out, and it doesn’t include my nomination. I nominate the other four lettered F-word: fear. Why? Because fear is so corrosive and yet invisible. It is at the bottom of so much pain, worry, failure and loss, and yet it never seems to get the blame.

In your field, training, you know the scenario. You identified your people’s training needs. You put them through a great training program. You even certified them. So you know they know what to do and how to do it, but why aren’t they doing it?

Because they are afraid!  Not shaking-in-their-boots afraid, but still impeded by fear of one kind or another that prevents them from executing the new behaviors you’ve trained them on.  As it says in the dictionary, “Fear makes us unable to do what is right or expected of us.”

But are they going to tell you that? Of course not. Fear is not a respected emotion. Everybody knows there’s no crying in baseball and no fearing at the office. So fear gets driven underground.

That’s why it’s up to you to learn how to discern when fear is the obstacle, what kind of fear is involved, and, finally, how to teach people to overcome their fears so that they perform with excellence.


  1. Fear of running out of time. People don’t believe me when I first mention time, but think about it:  What is one of the most precious things you have? Time is a true, finite treasure and way too many people spend their working days thinking, “I have too much to do and not enough time to do it!  Deadlines are looming and I’m coming up short!” As the workplace gets more distracting, thanks to open offices, too many devices and too many alerts, time and attention get squandered to the point that people truly fear they will never, ever find the time to deliver.
  2. Fear of rejection. This one is painful to write about, because it’s such a waste! Full disclosure: From childhood I’ve been blessed with enough chutzpah that fear of rejection never stood much chance with me, and as a consequence, I think I wring every last drop of opportunity out of my abilities. So it kills me to see capable people back away from fulfilling their potential just because somebody might – might – reject them. People actually choose to underperform, to be underpaid, under-rewarded, under-respected – all because of something that might happen. And if it did happen, rejection would be no big deal. Rejection isn’t death. It’s a sign that you need to take a different track.
  3. Fear of failure. If you don’t fear failure, then you’re not thinking through the risks and how to prevent them. But too many people experience something on the atychiphobia spectrum, “the abnormal, unwarranted, and persistent fear of failure.” They have so little confidence in themselves that they simply don’t try. These people live their working lives under the radar, seeing things and not naming them, knowing things and not using them – all because the prospect of failure blots out the sun of possible success. For them, no excitement about possible success is worth the terrifying prospect of failure.
  4. Fear of success. A different side of the same coin, fear of success leaves people feeling hollow, and as a consequence, they underutilize their gifts. When they do experience success, they feel like an imposter (“I just got lucky”). They fear the exposure that comes with success: “Tall poppies get cut down to size.”  Better to let somebody else rise to the occasion. I like how Tony Robbins puts it: “It’s not the events of our lives that shape our destiny, but rather our perception of those events.”  Research says that 70 percent of all successful people have experienced the feeling of being an imposter!
  5. Fear of the unknown. People like predictability – fair enough. “I got along just fine the old way – I know what happens. And I don’t know what will happen if I start doing things the new way.” Old habits got them this far, and who knows what new habits would bring? The problem is, they tend to overrate their ability to predict things. Old habits got them a raise and a bonus this year, but now there’s a new strategy, and they won’t measure up. But that’s where fear of the unknown creates a level of stubbornness that leaves trainers sorely frustrated.


By now, if I haven’t struck fear into your heart, you’re asking, so how do I solve this?

  1. Start by putting fear in its rightful place. That’s what FDR was saying with his quote, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It was the worst year of the Great Depression, our unemployment topped 25 percent, Hitler opened Dachau, banks were shaky, and the Dust Bowl was ruining the world’s breadbasket. But still, back then Americans had it better than humankind had ever experienced in history, and 80 years later things are even better in so many ways.
  2. Remember that fear is a coward itself. It folds in the face of bravery. Which is another way of saying, people can learn courage. Everybody starts out with monsters under the bed, and it’s terrifying. If we can learn by adulthood to not fear for our ankles when it’s time to go to bed, then we can learn to overcome the Five Big Fears at work. When you encounter fear, teach courage. It comes in small steps, like learning any other skill.
  3. Experience is the best teacher. When you want to teach courage, you treat people to a small experience with courage, but in a setting where they risk little exposure or loss. They like the feeling of courage instead of fear, they relinquish a bit of fear, and the next time they take a bigger step, and so on, until suddenly they are ready for the main stage. We call that the Off-Broadway Principle.  Small risks with small rewards pave a path to large risks and larger rewards.
  4. Give your people the gift of mindfulness. Teach them what I call the “Mental Hygiene Process” described in the blog, “Six Tips for Concentrating at Will.” These tips can control their mind and thereby control their fears.

If fear, the other four lettered F-word, is holding back your people, surface it, talk about it and eradicate it. Don’t let another year go by without learning where this enemy of success hides.