I’ve said many times: I’ve learned more from my failures than from my successes…and I’ve made some whoppers. Goof-ups, missteps, slip-ups and embarrassments are no reason to ring one’s hands and hang one’s head. In fact, our failures can be the most powerful teachers we have. The lessons we learn often stick with us for a lifetime.
Can you remember a big mistake you’ve made and hopefully learned from? Was it a disaster or just a bump on the road to future success? I certainly can.
If we assess what went wrong and also what went right, we can translate that learning into more effective leadership behaviors, perspectives and skills.
Here’s why we need to pay attention to, rather than ignore, our failures:
1. They grab our attention.
Failures have a way of focusing our attention and putting crucial problems right in our faces. They point out that something needs fixing. If it’s really a biggie, it gets us focused, ready for battle and on the road to success.
Recently I gave the wrong dates to two guests for an upcoming talk radio program. Once I realized what had happened, I quickly contacted them, acknowledged my goof-up, apologized and then worked with them to reschedule. The lesson I learned, as someone who is not inclined to be detail-focused, is to review my calendar and all my correspondence before it goes out, to ensure I provide correct information.
2. They make us notice our individual actions and choices.
Sometimes our instinctive reaction to a mistake is to fix blame elsewhere. The classic is the dog ate my homework. Others are “Somebody should have told me about this.” or “That was to be done by Sarah’s department not mine.” Instead we should look for our role in the mistake. Taking responsibility for a goof-up is not fun. Yet the act of doing so points to what we can do differently next time.
3. They push us to examine if we’re on track or heading in a wrong direction.
When a project fails, this can be a sign that it was unwise for you to even begin the project in the first place. When your attempt to change careers fails, this can be a signal that the choice was unwise for now. They also help us get in touch with what we really want to do and not do, be or not be, have or not have.
When we experience the consequences of mistakes, we get a clear message about which of our efforts are working and which are not. There’s nothing like an overdraft notice from the bank to tell us that our spending is out of control. Or running out of gas on the freeway in bitter cold or blazing hot weather that tells us to pay attention to the gas gauge. What do you need to pay attention to before it becomes a big headache?
How Do You Handle Failures?
Some people, when faced with a big mistake, begin to pull back to retreat. Instead, we can use the experience “to bounce” to learn, grow and be better leaders. One way to get maximum benefit from failures is to examine them through the filter of these powerful questions.
- How can I use this experience?
- What did I learn about me, about others, about the situation?
- What will I do differently next time and how will I be different in the future?
We all experience bad days and we all go through our share of crises. But we have a choice in how we respond; we can choose to react negatively and panic, or we can choose to remain calm and logical to find a solution. Avoid blowing events out of proportion. It probably is not as fatal as you think!
Remember, “Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.” – Vivian Komori