Failure: What A Wonderful Thing!

“Failure” is an interesting word. This word can create fear and anxiety in many people. It can also be used as an excuse to never try anything. The thought of failure can hold people back from reaching their full potential. In leadership, failure might keep us from trying something new. It might keep us from encouraging our staff and team to think outside of the box or also try something new. The thought of failure might hinder our ability to do great things. Why is failure something we fear? Why do we see failure as a show of weakness? We need to change our perspective on failure if we are to become effective leaders, innovators, and people of change.

Leadership’s job is to help their team and staff to become better versions of themselves. This means encouraging risk taking, new ideas, and taking on leadership roles. This can be worrisome at times, unless you are okay with failure and are open to learning. Failure is not fatal. In fact, when we allow ourselves and others to fail, with a mindset of learning and growth, great things can happen. Encourage your staff to try new things, you might be surprised what others are capable of. Encourage and support their ventures, and guide from the side, but ultimately, let your staff try and fail, and when failure happens, come together and reflect on the process. Maybe there is something that could be done better. Maybe something was missing. Whatever it might be, learn from failure and let them try again.

Some of you might say, “That will cost the company or organization money.” You’re probably right, but nothing is gained unless risk is involved. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, stated, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of courage, innovation, creativity, and change. There is no innovation or creativity without failure.” Failure leaves us vulnerable, which can be scary and uncertain, but imagine if that uncertainty led to something that put your company, your organization, your team on the map. What if failing allowed you to see the weaknesses and flaws that were holding your company back? What if failure bolstered your staff and built a better team centered approach? What if failure was the key to success?

The truth is failure is not something to fear but something to embrace. Instead of inhibiting forward progress, failure is the key that will unlock the door to uninhibited potential. When something goes wrong or doesn’t go according to plan, there is an opportunity to learn, reflect, and regroup. Imagine what would have happened if Elon Musk chose to quit after his first attempt at his initial SpaceX reusable booster launch. His company failed multiple times at the bringing back the reusable booster in a condition that could be reused. Today, SpaceX is the leading space company and is now worth over $100 billion dollars. Failure was needed to become successful.

Did you know that the Wright Brothers brought boxes of parts with them then they were testing their flying machine? They knew that they would fail multiple times, and they came prepared. They didn’t let the idea of failure or failure itself hinder them from building a flying machine. They worked through their failure, trying new things, new ideas, and new concepts. They reflected, communicated, and worked together to build their dream. Innovators, creators, and dreamers see failure as a stepping stone to success. They welcome the opportunity to reflect and learn. The large companies and organizations that are leading in their industry didn’t start with perfection. Each one of them had failures, and instead of quitting and fearing more failure, they embraced their failures and built on their new knowledge to become even greater.

As leaders, encourage your team to try new things, be innovators, problem solve, and take risks. When what was planned fails, come alongside your team and reflect on why it didn’t perform as well as hoped, work together to see what could be improved and what might need to change. Encourage your team to keep trying, to keep improving, and to not quit. After all, my guess is that you had to fail at many things until you found yourself in a leadership position. Don’t stifle the growth of your staff and team, encourage it. Celebrate failure in a way that will encourage your staff to keep trying, keep improving, and keep reflecting. How leadership reacts to failure will determine your company’s or organization’s success. The more we see failure as a learning opportunity, the more we will see our staff, team, and company grow. But if you shut down, fear, and chastise for failed attempts, you will watch your staff, team, and company disappear.   

Hold fast to the thrill of trying. Embrace the mistakes and failures that will indubitably happen. Take the opportunity to learn and reflect. C.S. Lewis said, “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” Encourage your staff and team to be people of curiosity and innovation. You never know, you, your staff, your team, or even your company or organization might be one failure away from greatness.

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