Dr. Fred Johnson
Learning from Failure Leads to Success
At my college commencement ceremony, the speaker reminded us of something – that failure is inevitable. It happens to everyone. Everyone has to face it at some point in his or her life. But eventually, failure is going to become a part of your success.
Marti Wronski reminded me and the rest of my graduating class that baseball players are considered great if they can bat .300 for a season or more – that means that they fail seven out of every ten times they are at bat. Failure is going to happen throughout life, and especially throughout careers.
Failure impacts everyone differently, and it can be a struggle for leaders to manage failures. Leaders have a choice – they can either ignore failure or learn from it.
As much as we do not want to think about our failures – we do not like knowing that we did not achieve greatness – they can teach us an incredible amount about ourselves and how to handle different situations and decisions.
Part of dealing with failure is acknowledging what went wrong and learning from the mistake. Reflecting on failure is a good way to prevent future mistakes.
Think about it – as a kid, if you played baseball in the yard and ended up breaking a window, you most likely were punished. Well, breaking the window would be a failure. If you played baseball again the next day in the same spot – well, you may have broken another window or been yelled at by your parents. If you learn from your mistakes you move farther away from the house, preferably on the side with the least windows.
This is the same for a leader. You change your behaviors or decisions so that you do not make the same mistake repeatedly.
Failing may make you doubt your judgment and decision-making abilities. Believe it or not, you should still trust your instincts. You instincts may change if you fail, but your gut still knows what you believe in and how to help you make decisions.
There are always more chances – if you fail once, you get back up and try again. Failures help you understand what to change the next time an issue comes up. Whether that is how you handle your decision-making or changing the actual decision, you will be able to take those chances. Truthfully, you will probably fail again.
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
As a leader, you will have plenty of decisions to make, and you will probably not get all of them right, just as Michael Jordan was trusted to take the game winning shot twenty-six times and missed. Take pride in knowing that you made a decision, and take time to look at the different decisions you have to make. Each leader has different opportunities – some of those may turn into failures – but using those failures to better understand yourself and those you work with will make you a better leader.
“The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.” – Thomas Watson, Sr., IBM
Accepting failures allows companies to approach innovation in a new way. They can look at a variety of options and use the successes and failures to determine what does and does not work for the company. Failures help a company determine the best way to proceed.
Each company does this differently, but learning to accept failures from your team can help your company increase their success. Of course, innovation is not only about success and failure; learning what the company and its employees do well and what does not work can help leaders at each level.
“Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.” – General Stanley McChrystal
Being engaged with your team and everyone involved can help you learn how failures can help and hinder your team. Each person addresses failure differently; knowing that can help you be prepared to address mistakes with each employee.
It is not about being the supervisor and knowing when a failure is going to happen. It is about collaborating with employees when failure happens to know what worked well and what did not work, what issues they had and how to work through those issues. Evaluation is important, but moving past the issues or a failure is even more important – where you are going is key.
Being a failure-tolerant leader is important for you, your employees, and your company’s future. Create an atmosphere and culture that accepts failure – where people feel safe and have confidence even if their idea may fail. This will make the company better for you and your employees.
Failures or mistakes can be the way to your success as a leader and as a business. Accepting that failure can be beneficial to everyone will help you break through barriers that are present in your organization.
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