Promoting team members to senior leadership positions is a significant achievement that showcases their performance and potential. It not only rewards their hard work but also demonstrates a commitment to further develop top talent, inspiring others in the organization. However, despite possessing the necessary functional skills, a track record of getting things done, and management experience, many newly promoted executives struggle to succeed in their new roles.

At TechCXO, our executive coaches are called into many situations where the new executive is struggling, feeling overwhelmed, and having issues dealing with the pressure and stress of the new role. In our experience, we’ve identified and believe the primary reason behind their failure: fear of failure itself.

Understanding the Culprit

Fear of failure is a completely normal and predictable response when individuals are thrust into unfamiliar and high-pressure situations. This fear often manifests as a nagging thought of “don’t fail” that constantly haunts their conscious and subconscious minds. It stems from the innate human desire to prove their worthiness and avoid any actions that might expose their vulnerabilities or jeopardize their new position.

Pitfalls Driven by Fear

The fear of failure can lead to two common scenarios. In the first scenario, new executives become hesitant in decision-making, second-guessing themselves and failing to assert their voices in senior team meetings. This overwhelming stress can paralyze them, impeding their ability to perform their responsibilities effectively.

In the second scenario, executives overcompensate by becoming aggressive, defensive, and siloed in their decision-making, which creates dysfunction within the senior team and isolates the new executive from their colleagues.

Resistance to Help

Even when support or mentoring is offered by peers and leaders, the fear of failure often prevents new executives from accepting assistance. They fear that seeking help might be perceived as a sign of weakness, potentially undermining their credibility. Consequently, they resort to toughing it out and adopting a “fake it until you make it” mentality. However, this approach becomes increasingly challenging under mounting pressure, making success almost impossible.

Hope is Not a Strategy

While fear is an inherent part of the human experience, effective support is crucial in helping newly promoted executives navigate their fears and succeed in their roles. Relying solely on hope and expecting them to figure it out on their own is a recipe for suboptimal outcomes. It is essential to proactively provide support and guidance to mitigate the negative impact of fear.

Here are a few tips that companies can employ to maximize the success of the newly promoted executive.

Putting Fear in its Place

Fear should be acknowledged as a risk detector rather than a predictor of failure. To support newly promoted executives, it is crucial to help them differentiate between genuine risks and irrational fears. This can be achieved through education, building emotional intelligence, and improving communication skills. Although it requires effort, significant progress can be made in managing fear’s influence.

How to Support the New Executive

To ensure the success of newly promoted executives, a comprehensive support plan is necessary. This plan should include internal support from senior team members, immediate supervisors, and HR leadership. Additionally, we strongly recommend engaging an external executive coach who can provide unbiased guidance and a confidential space for the new executive to work through their fears and challenges.

Effective Communication and Support Structure

Open communication is essential from the beginning. Inform the new executive that fear of failure is universal and discuss the potential pitfalls they may encounter. Establish a regular schedule of one-on-one sessions involving both internal and external support teams and commit to the schedule.

Ground rules should be established to promote a judgment-free environment, emotional security, and encourage vulnerability. These sessions should focus on clarifying the difference between stress and actual problems, fostering confidence and clarity.

Lead by Example

Addressing the fear of failure should not be limited to the new executive alone. The entire senior executive team must be aware of their own behaviors that may contribute to the new executive’s stress. By managing their own fears, demonstrating emotional intelligence, vulnerability, and seeking help when needed, the senior team can create an environment where the new executive feels supported and open to accepting assistance.


Fear of failure is an omnipresent force that can either be harnessed positively or become a destructive obstacle for newly promoted executives. Companies that fail to provide a robust support plan for these new executives are likely forced to replace them within 18 months. The economics of lost productivity, recruiting fees, internal disruption, and failure to meet objectives is more than enough to encourage senior teams to put fear in its rightful place.

By following the recommended tips, such as proactive support, open communication, and establishing a strong support structure, organizations can significantly increase the likelihood of their new executives’ success, contributions to the senior team, and overall impact on the company.

Matt Oess
Matt OessMatt Oess leads TechCXO’s Executive Coaching Practice and also serves our Clients as a Strategy, Sales, and Marketing consultant or interim CRO.