Failure is inevitable.
Whether in business ventures, professional experiences or personal relationships, we will all experience a varying amount of failure in our lifetimes.
It is very easy to dwell on all of the things that didn’t go right in the midst of failure. While this is understandable, there are significant benefits to be gained from embracing failures for what they truly are: opportunities to learn and grow.
At The National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS), aone of our Six Foundations of Leadership we provide to members in their leadership training is ‘Seek Constant Improvement’. This is especially important when we have a failure in something we are working toward. Failure can be perceived as a reason to give up and walk away. Instead, it is an opportunity for us to evaluate, learn, and figure out another way to achieve our goal or objective.
Failure doesn’t need to be negative. Here are a few positive ways you can approach a failure to get the most out of it.
Take Accountability for Your Failure
Regardless of the type of failure, there are many sides to every story – who was responsible for the failure, why it was theirs and not yours, etc. As the leader in your life, your responsibility is to own your part in an initiative, project, conversation – or whatever it is – that fails. As a young manager, I remember my failure in leading and motivating people. I thought I was doing great and our outcomes were off the chart. However, it wasn’t until one of my direct reports came to me and said, “Charles, I’m the only one with the nerve to tell you this – but, everyone is scared of you.” I had failed to take into consideration how I was communicating and it has been a lesson I have taken to show more empathy, patience and less intensity in how I came across to this day as CEO. By taking accountability for our actions, you can change the script for your future leadership opportunities.
Digest Your Failure
Sometimes when we fail we just want to act like it never happened. Beyond not taking accountability, we want to put it in the rearview mirror and never see it again. Digesting your failure means you fully process it – with a coach, a boss, a mentor, a friend whose opinion you respect. As an intern at a small start-up, I had the opportunity to learn from a very accomplished business leader. He had spent his career at a large Fortune 25 company and then decided to start his own business. I was his first intern and for several years I kept a service mindset and received a great amount of recognition for my work and commitment. I then shifted from a service mindset to an expectation mindset – expecting him to provide opportunities and make exceptions for me. After providing feedback to me several times, he gave up on me (rightfully so in looking in the rearview mirror) and shifted my reporting structure to another manager. Looking back, I cringe on how I behaved as that young professional and it kept circling back in my mind. It wasn’t until I met with an executive coach and shared the experience that I was able to process the experience, pull out the learning, and then share the lessons with my mentees now. When you fail, don’t throw it under a rock or try to bury it. Share your failure to be more authentic and to help others on their own leadership journey.
Pick Yourself Back Up and Keep Trying
When we fail, we can decide to say either, “I knew I shouldn’t have tried anyway” or “I will try harder next time”. Your response to your failures will dictate your outcomes. Oprah and Walt Disney were fired from early jobs. JK Rowling and Stephen King were rejected dozens of times in their writing submissions. Jerry Seinfeld was booed off stage, while Steve Spielberg was rejected twice from film school. Where would the world be if these individuals hadn’t picked themselves back up and kept trying? I remember when I received my rejection letter from the University of Notre Dame – my reaction wasn’t to dwell in the failure. I vowed that day that I would work harder and smarter to ensure that I had access to the opportunities I wanted to pursue. It ignited a fire inside me that hasn’t gone out to this day. Even when you hit a wall, find the way over or around it to try again.
Educate Yourself to Avoid Future Failures
For some individuals, the last time they pick up a book to learn is right before the last class of their last year in high school or college. Yes, we learn on the job and in the moment, but the world is full of resources for our intentional learning to help us in our jobs, in our relationships, in our parenting and even with ourselves. By intentionally connecting with mentors in your field, listening to educational podcasts, joining a peer group, reading and discussing books, or even doing a google search on a topic, we are learning and arming ourselves with information that can help avoid a future failure. My life didn’t have any room to add more things in it, like many other CEOs, but I learned about and was accepted to the YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization). Because of the time commitment, I almost quit. But, then I realized taking the step back to learn from other presidents and the educational seminars, actually allowed me to take 5 steps forward in running my company.
Use Failures as Building Blocks
Your failures can actually become building blocks for your future success. In my own organization, we realized we weren’t hiring the right people for our company. As a start-up, we were hiring extremely talented and skilled executives and asking them to do their jobs in a very scripted manner. In fact, I had hired a previous colleague and subsequently fired them after a year. They then went on Glassdoor and left a review that said, “Without a doubt the worst professional experience of my career. The two senior leaders lack business acumen and couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag. Run, don’t walk, from the company.” It was an eye-opener for us an organization and we figured out a model that worked better for us in scaling our company and building leaders from within. We now have leaders within our organization whose careers have taken them from individual contributions to company VPs, while scaling our company exponentially. This foundation would have only been laid had we not failed in who we were trying to hire and learned what worked for us as leaders.
Embrace the Inevitability – And Be Ready
Be prepared – you’re going to fail. Whether we accept that accountability, digest it thoroughly, keep trying again, educate ourselves to avoid it in the future, and use those failures as building blocks – that’s up to each of us. Michael Jordan summed it up well – “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Give yourself the permission to fail – it might be the most life changing thing you do this year.
Written by Charles Knippen.