In one of our first Monday Moment’s of 2019, the Top Ten Leadership Tips of 2019, tip number six was Teach them How to Fail. The year is flying by and chances are these last six months have been filled with both failures (hope not too many!) and successes. Yet, for leaders, it seems the key is to fail faster and more often so that the knowledge and experience required for successes accrues far more rapidly. Have you had any failures this year? Were they large or small? Did they sting for a short while or linger longer? No matter your answers, the biggest, most important question, though no leader seems to enjoy answering it, is did you learn from that failure and put the learning into practice as you moved forward? As I’ve written previously in Contagious Leadership Step 5: Leaders Allow and Forgive Mistakes, errors and failures are part of the learning process. An unrealistic effort toward perfection actually slows down learning and improvement and can cause a leader to forever continue the process of aiming, so let’s get to it and make some rapid improvement, shall we? Today’s Monday Moment helps you see the five steps to quick recovery from a blunder, but will also serve as the first installment of this month’s focus on how you teach others to fail with grace, forgiveness, and a keen focus on the learning that comes from it. In preparation for any failures that arise this week, here is the first step to a speedy recovery:
1. Own It
Online resources from AARP to Fast Company, address failure. There’s the Failure Project, the mention of many inventors whose failures became many of our most commonly used products, and there are those failures that no one writes about, the ones we don’t talk about. Failing is not fun. It’s embarrassing and our boss may even have a thing or two to say about how it affects our reputation, but let’s be candid for a moment: If you refuse to fail, you’ll never learn how to do anything any differently or better than you are now and if you don’t like the results of what you have now, failing is your fastest, best option to arrive at a new situation. The challenge for most leaders, in their personal and professional scenarios, is that failure is seemingly inextricably linked to how good they’re doing in their role or performance. Failure dings one’s reputation, or so it is believed. Own your errors and maybe we stop believing that the only time it’s okay to own those errors is in hindsight of some stellar success. You don’t have to become a billionaire, the inventor of the lightbulb, or the Vice President of your company before you can admit you made a few blunders in your journey.
2. Mind Your Markers
It is this unspoken belief that success is only attained by those who had an easy road, some lucky breaks, or an obvious advantage, that keeps us from admitting our failures. Couple that with the fear that if we don’t make it big, we’ll just be seen as a failure, and not someone who overcame one, and you have a recipe for keeping all failed attempts a giant secret. Yet, the problem is often our marker, not our attempt. Think of it this way. If clean the entire three-car, completely disorganized, garage is on your list and you clean only half of it in your spare time on a busy weekend, is that a failure? Depends on your marker. If clean garage and complete entire weeklong project in one weekend is the marker that deems success, then yes, your partial completion of the part of the garage that now sparkles, would be considered a failure at total completion. The example may seem silly, but how often you set your own self up for failure based on nothing more than your unrealistic expected or desired accomplishments or outcomes, otherwise known as success markers?
3. Fix What’s Fixable
Even Edison had failed attempts in leading his lightbulb experiments, but because, in this well-known example, he fixed what failed over and over again, he finally found the right combination to light up the world with his idea. So, you failed in that most recent hiring decision. Fix what you can see led to the failure and adjust it for next time. That is learning. So, you failed to meet your numbers last quarter. Fix the number of meetings you attend and the time you spend on the phone selling and see if that doesn’t make a difference. So, you failed to keep your cool with an annoying employee and you wish you’d done better. Examine what about them drives you crazy and see if you can approach it differently or even prevent the behavior. Once you fail, the magic happens in the next steps forward and those steps? They are much more effective when you fix what initially made you stumble.
4. Move Forward
As you own it, fix what you can, and learn from the failed experience, leaders know the only way to continue to make progress is to keep going. Move forward. Whether that means you delegate the task at which you keep failing or you find help to keep you from failing in that area, or you doggedly work at it until failure is no longer the outcome, move the heck on. As comedian Darren Lacroix tells his audiences, don’t fall on your face and then stay down there forever talking about it while you’re still lying on your face. If you face plant, it doesn’t mean you need to grow roots there. Learn to bounce, improve your steps, and keep walking.
5. Remember the Process
Driven achievers and leaders who relish the opportunity to cross items off a list will regularly make the mistake of making learning a single accomplishment. The conversation sounds a bit like this: “Okay, messed that up. Fixed it. Won’t have to learn that lesson again. Done. Next.” And yes, it’s often even those words that are used. But learning is a lot like weight loss. One doesn’t lose ten pounds and never have to address watching what you eat again. Eating right and learning to implement what we gain from our mistakes, is a process, not a one and done, one-time effort. Be the leader of your own efforts in this process of recovering from failure AND help those you lead to remember that learning from failure and making mistakes is a never-ending process. Some have even said that if you’re not failing, you’re not trying often enough or hard enough, to become better. And on that note…
Ready to Take the Become a Better Leader Challenge?
Each Monday Moment shares a Become a Better Leader Challenge relevant to that week’s topic. This week your challenge is around mistakes and these actions might not be easy to take. For your leadership improvement:
- Think of one recent mistake and record what you learned from it.
- Determine if you have applied that learning or simply stopped trying.
- If you’ve stopped trying for fear of a new failure, actively seek ways to try, not just again using the same old method, but different. Fix what you can, apologize where needed, and move forward with a focus on improving your expertise in this area.
You’re on your way and you’re ready to become that better leader by Monday.
I’m Monica Wofford and that’s your Monday Moment. Have a great week and of course, stay Contagious!
Monica Wofford, CSP develops leaders. CEO of Contagious Companies, her firm designs and delivers leadership training for those managers who’ve been promoted, but not prepared. Author of Contagious Leadership and Make Difficult People Disappear, Monica may be reached at www.ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWofford.com or by calling 1-866-382-0121.