LEADERS NEVER FAIL 2024-03-26T01:38:00-04:00


You might look at the title of this week’s newsletter and say “What? Larry, how can you say that? Leaders often fail. You have written about failures you have experienced during your career in this very newsletter.”

You would be correct about that. However, during a webinar in which I participated this past week, I was reminded of a different paradigm about failure. The subject of the webinar was “Developing Wisdom.” Big topic, I know.

The webinar presenter defined four kinds of wisdom:

-Cognitive – The ability to acquire, integrate and apply knowledge

-Reflective – The ability to learn from experience with introspection and reflection

-Affective – The ability to connect with others, have empathy and emotional intelligence

-Situational – The ability to balance multiple perspectives in complex and uncertain situations

These are all important aspects of wisdom, you might be thinking, but what do they have to do with leaders failing?

When it comes to reflective wisdom, the presenter opined, we can examine our relationship to failure.

One of her own leadership coaching clients explained to her : ”We never fail.” When she probed the meaning of that phrase, he explained “We always use failure as an opportunity to reflect and learn. In that way, we do not view these episodes as “failures” but as “learning opportunities.”

He elaborated, “Whenever we experience a form of failure, we ask our teammates to obtain feedback and to reflect on what has happened without judgment. Then we ask each person for one insight from the feedback and then ask them to plan one change in their approach based on that feedback.

This kind of reflection forces leaders to think about what has transpired and what they can learn from it, to examine where their team is now compared to where they want to be, and encourages the leader and team to make real meaning from their experiences and insights

I discussed this same subject of failure with one of my coaching clients from a major law firm several weeks ago. My client was talking about knowing he is a “perfectionist” and bemoaning mistakes he or his teammates had made in the past.

He has a tendency to dwell upon errors because of the demanding culture at his firm. He has very high standards for himself and frequently feels he is not living up to those self-imposed standards.

I asked him to consider a change in paradigms. “What if,” I asked, “you could examine these same errors, omissions or mistakes, and give yourself permission to pause?”

“In that space before you react in your typical way,” I continued, “what if you could ask yourself these two questions:

– “What have I learned from this experience?”

– “How can I apply what I have learned moving forward into the future?”

My client and I then discussed the possibility of my client keeping a daily “Learning Journal.” At the end of each day, before he leaves his office for home or leaves his home office to be with family members, he could reflect on his most important learning moments from that day:

-What did he learn about his job?

-What did he learn about a teammate or his team?

-What did he learn about himself?

If he could not make the time to engage in this exercise every day, I offered, he could do this on a weekly basis. In this manner, all failures – and successes – could be transformed into learning moments.

Then, to help his teammates cultivate a true learning culture, he could teach this reflective exercise to all his teammates and encourage them to engage in the same practice. They would be given a valuable tool which they could use not only in their current positions, but throughout their careers.

Failure can always be viewed through a lens of “What am I learning here?” These learning opportunities can be easily missed when we dwell on the negative aspects of errors, mistakes or unmet goals.

When we as teams adopt the mindset that each failure is a learning opportunity, we can all grow. This applies to our professional and personal lives equally.

Even if you have viewed failure as a completely negative experience – up until now – I invite you to revisit your perspective starting tomorrow!

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