Failure is Not a Four-Letter Word!
Editor’s note: This article first published in the Fall 2022 issue of Beyond the Meeting Room, ALHI’s printed magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication focused on sharing compelling, inspirational and educational stories from beyond the four walls of a meeting room.
Are you the type of leader who doesn’t believe in failure? Or are you the type that encourages risk and/or creativity that are likely to result in failure? I am always surprised at the number of leaders who either by action or words attempt to stamp out failure in their organization as if it were as abhorrent as swearing at your boss.
Somehow, we have skewed the concept of failure into the worst thing ever, as if trying is a waste of time and money. Yet leaders are constantly telling people to ‘think outside the box’ but the expected result should be fully aligned with the status quo which in of itself is a form of failure. Every team or organization has issues that are never solved and periodically are readdressed in the belief that the old solutions will work this time. Recognize this is what failure is—expecting different results from a solution that never worked, rather than understanding the importance of trying.
Your job as the leader is to set expectations and to define failure for your team. I offer four simple rules:
1. The only real failure is not trying or not learning from an idea or project that did not achieve the expected return. The reality is risk, innovation and change often result in failure and the most common culprit is insufficient thinking.
2. Failure is an undeniable truth. Successful groups take risks, believe in creativity that may lead to failing but clearly understand what should happen if failure occurs.
3. Adopt the mantra that it is not in failing that one actually loses, rather, failure is measured by what the individual or the team does on the rebound. Define the process for learning and growing from failure.
4. Positioning matters. Failure is opportunity to learn and to succeed the next time. Establish a post-mortem for any change or project to learn how to or how not to.
Often unspoken, organizations may develop a fear of failure that limits the level of success and leads teams to accept mediocre results. Such results diminish the organization, dampening the sense of possibility in exchange for marginality. Avoiding failure dampens innovation, derails creativity and makes meeting business challenges all the more difficult as the very best either leave or give less than their best.
Dr. Lalia Rach is Executive Managing Director, Strategic Services, at ALHI. She is a successful consultant, educator and leader recognized for her ability as a pragmatic thinker. Her approach to strategy and leadership development produces insightful and distinctive thinking advancing the ability of emerging and established executives. She is the author of “Managing the Book on You: Rewriting Your Leadership Story.”