The ‘F’ word of the business world, ‘failure’ makes us feel uneasy, ashamed, and creates the sensation that we are the odd ones out. Everyone else is succeeding and we’re not.
‘Failing’ has a negative connotation in today’s business world and many will do anything and everything to either avoid failing, or to hide it when it happens.
Being okay with failure can make you the best leader that you can possibly be. Why? Because failure isn’t always a bad thing – we forget that not succeeding only helps us to triumph in the future.
What are we so afraid of?
We’re afraid of being judged, yet everyday people fail in their personal and business lives.
Anyone who says that they have never failed is lying, either to themselves or others!
Being judged, especially in a work context, can be personally humiliating and exceptionally disheartening. The persona of failure has taken on life of its own – we should be perceiving failure as a learning opportunity (since it happens to everyone!). Take it in and move on!
What causes failure?
Failure may be the result of lack of correct information or knowledge, making decisions in isolation, not considering the big picture, not taking the time to carefully consider alternatives, or virtually any other factor. Life sets us up for disappointment a lot more frequently than it sets us up to succeed.
It is important to keep in mind that not all failures are created equal. This link to “Strategies for Failure” discusses different reasons for failure: https://hbr.org/2011/04/strategies-for-learning-from-failure . While some mistakes are excusable and explainable, others are not. Being able to effectively manage yourself when things aren’t going to plan is key for moving forward and future development. Being okay with failure is better for you and everyone around you!
Why is it important to fail?
- It is a growth experience, whether we like it or not: we learn what does and doesn’t work, we’re exposed to things we didn’t know, and we realize that success is not guaranteed. These experiences are an opportunity to grow. Recognizing the importance of failure, companies in Silicon Valley and other innovation centres have adopted the mantra of “fail early, fail often”.
- It builds character and makes us stronger. Most of us grew up with the belief that being wrong or making mistakes was ‘bad’ and we avoided it all costs. Realizing that we don’t know everything, and being okay with not being perfect, keeps us humble. Failure helps us build resilience and makes us stronger.
- Reinforces that things aren’t always easy. Learning to pick oneself up and move forward after a negative incident helps us persevere in challenging times. Thomas Edison was of the view that “many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
- Failure opens up new opportunities. Let downs are stepping stones to success. More information about things that didn’t work lead us closer to the things that do. Thomas Edison supported this view by saying: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
- Failure is freeing. What’s the worst thing about failing? It’s that feeling in the pit of your stomach and the realization that things did not go the way you planned. The upside is that typically things can’t get much worse. So, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying again. And now you have more information to move forward.
As a leader, how can you be a role-model in your response to failure?
- Attitude is everything. As a leader, your attitude toward negative situations will inform your team’s attitude. If you see failure as a normal part of doing business and as a learning opportunity, your team will be less inclined to hide it from you. If you convey failure as bad (most leaders do!), team members will not openly discuss problems with you, try to manage on their own (likely unsuccessfully), and may actively hide failure from you causing bigger problems in the future.
- Learn from it and move on. Failure informs success. Learning what you needed to and incorporating that learning in the path forward, will ultimately lead to success.
- Acknowledge your failures. Employees look to their leaders for cues on how to behave. If you are open about your failures, you will be seen as fallible and human. This makes you more approachable and perpetuates a positive learning environment.
- Treat failures accordingly. Some failures are due to negligence, lack of oversight or attention, or lack of caring. These types of failures are easily preventable and should be addressed from a performance management perspective. Negligence is not excusable and should be treated seriously.
None of us like to fail. However, it is necessary for our growth and development as individuals and business professionals. Accepting that we will sometimes fail, how can we best learn from it to be more successful in the future?
How have you turned failure into success?