If You’re Not Failing You’re Not Succeeding!

By • on March 31, 2014

Failure is the main ingredient in the recipe for success; its 10 parts education, 20 parts effort and 70 parts failure. So why do we hang our heads, lower our eyelids, and cover our mouths, drenched in shame and disgrace, when admitting our failures?

It all starts with the competitive arena which has actually made it more difficult for leaders and individuals alike to admit they have failed at something they attempted to do. Competition really starts in the womb and continues on with siblings, school, work, and personal relationships. Are we as individuals so pompous that we actually believe that we will succeed at everything we touch?

The truth is that it’s not necessarily the actual “act” of failure that hits us in the gut, knocking us to our knees; it’s the exercise of having to admit that we actually failed in the first place. That’s where the majority of our “failure” pain comes from. We are hard-wired for failure; we are just not hard-wired to admit it. What we are really craving is positive validation; and we can’t get that from failure… Unless we are able to turn the tables on the dreaded monster.

How do we come back afterward and ensure that we will do a better job the next time? The current crisis on Wall Street and within the technology sector stems from leaders’ avoiding the simple lesson of failure. We’ve all become so busy at not taking responsibility for anything that we’ve lost the opportunity inherent in failure. Historically speaking, there are many who failed before they succeeded. Abe Lincoln was defeated for state legislature and Speaker of the House for Illinois, lost the nomination to Congress and the Vice Presidency, was twice defeated for a seat in the US Senate, lost a job, failed in business and suffered a nervous breakdown, ALL before becoming the 16th President of the United States. “The fact that millions have achieved great success after a ridiculous amount of failure should clearly prove to all that you can fail all the way to success.” Did I mention that Lincoln publicly acknowledged his failures? That’s the key to harnessing the power of failure. Admitting it and charging right through it. Success is about leveraging failure after failure without losing your ability to admit it.

A leader must understand that in order to achieve any measurable level of success, failure is necessary. Albert Einstein said, “Insanity consists of doing the same thing over and over and hoping for different results.” One of the most valuable traits one can have as a leader is the ability to closely observe his or her mistakes and learn the lessons that create positive changes so that the next set of challenges presented will result in different outcomes.

Failure should not be seen as an unsuccessful attempt; rather, it can be viewed as a yet-unattained goal or as simply one more step toward eventual success. Leaders can truly embrace their fullest potential by actively embracing failure as the most important ingredient in the recipe for success.

The past can be a validated, comfortable place to hide, but it can also serve as a roadblock to innovation and growth instead of a bridge to a brighter, more prosperous future. Failure is temporary; success is long term. Great Leaders should not shut the door on their failures nor obsess over them endlessly. Instead, they need to use them as a tool with formidable force, as failures are the greatest teaching tool in existence. Observe their failures and analyze them, understanding they are not identified by their mistakes. One can overcome a great deal of fear-based thinking by understanding that we all fail and we all can go on to achieve great success from that failure.

Jack Welch, in his extraordinary book “Winning” notes resilience as one of the most important characteristics a leader can have: “The fourth characteristic [of senior leadership] is heavy-duty resilience. Every leader makes mistakes, every leader stumbles and falls. The question with a senior-level leader is, does she learn from her mistakes, regroup, and then get going again with renewed speed, conviction and confidence? The name for this trait is resilience, and it is important that a leader must have it going into a job because if she doesn’t, in a time of crisis time, is too late to learn it.”

Leaders encourage resilience in their teams by nurturing them through the recognition of failures and by encouraging them to build new and more successful habits in terms of failure. The magnitude of your achievements in life are directly proportional to your triviality of failure. If you don’t believe me, simply stand in the center of a busy airport and consider how many times the Wright Brothers did not get the plane off the ground! Yet they continued to try until they prevailed.

The greater your failure, the greater your potential in life is. Period! Failure is the price we pay to achieve the success, progress and validation that we enjoy in life. It is important as a leader to know that no matter how many times you fail, you are not a failure. Failure does not define you. What you do with failure creates those defining moments that enrich you as a leader.

Altering our failure mind-set assures us that while we cannot avoid failure, we can build on it, as it is the strongest foundation of great success. Reflecting on our experience from a new vantage point allows us to break down failure into specific bite size pieces, which can then be dissected and analyzed, helping us to determine the specific root cause of the failure.

Failure is not reserved for special people–nor is success. The only definitive difference between achievers and those who cease trying is how they approach, handle, and perceive their failures. Once success is achieved, the failures experienced are suddenly recognized as hard work and determination; thus we have achieved that very much sought-after validation.

In 1946 one of the founders of 20th Century Fox, Darryl Zanuck, said, “Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” 20th Century Fox Television was founded in 1949. Mr. Zanuck clearly admitted failure and was obviously validated after the immense amount of success that the company soon garnered from the addition.

As leaders, our job is to keep our goals rooted in reality, but we must also embrace the understanding and opportunities that failure brings. That will indeed make our teams and our missions soar.

As leaders, our mission is to maintain our reality-driven goals, while realizing that without failure, our recipe for success will be missing the main ingredient. Validation is just the icing on the cake.

Keep Charging Hard!


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