Your job as a leader is to confidently fail in a way that maximizes the benefits and minimizes the fall out. Here are my 5 steps to fail confidently like a leader (and recover quickly).
Recently, one of my clients decided to enter a global marketing competition she knew she had less than a 1% chance of winning. But her goal wasn’t to win. It was to learn. She wanted the experience because she knew it would expand her thinking.
You could say one of her goals was to fail. She might not characterize it that way, and you might not either.
But the fact is she knew going in she wasn’t going to win, and she did it anyway because she wanted to learn, she wanted to meet people and she wanted the experience.
I love this example because sometimes failing can be the goal AND you can still find reasons why pursuing failure can work FOR you.
But what if you don’t want to fail? What if you’re being told that failure isn’t an option? Then what?
Well, here’s the thing…
It doesn’t matter if your boss or your company culture ‘frowns’ upon failure. It’s going to happen whether you or they like it or not.
Learning to fail confidently is the only way to success. You didn’t get to where you are today without failing. And how you handle failure will determine your future success.
Your job is to manage failure in a way that maximizes the benefits and minimizes the fallout.
You don’t let failure happen to you. Your job is to confidently lead the failure.
Here are my 5 steps to fail confidently like a leader.
1: Be Emotional.
There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed about the failure. It doesn’t make you weak to feel disappointment. It makes you courageous for allowing yourself to feel it.
In fact, resisting or pretending you don’t feel disappointed often leads to messy actions like blaming others, not fully understanding the problem, or beating yourself up.
Take a beat and feel disappointed. Of course, you’re disappointed. Something happened you didn’t want to happen. And maybe your actions caused the failure.
And after you’ve felt the disappointment, you’re ready to get strategic about what’s next.
2: Lead The Learning.
In the book Failing Forward by John C. Maxwell, he poses the question “is failure the opposite of success?”
While pursuing the improvement of the telegraph machine, Thomas Edison invented a way to record and play back sound.
And Ray Kroc, a 52 year old shake machine salesperson, initially bought a restaurant from the McDonald’s brothers because he thought it would be a great way to sell more shake machines.
Every success story is sitting on top of a mountain of failures.
Most people are so busy taking the failure personally and beating themselves up, they don’t investigate what went sideways. And that’s where the gold is.
Failure always leads to new opportunities. They are always there. You simply need to intentionally look for them.
3: Choose Your Attitude.
The question I like to ask myself is, ‘How would my most leaderly self show up for this right now?’
You get to decide how you want to show up when you fail. And how you show up sets the tone for how others will feel about the failure.
So if you walk around feeling bad and sorry and guilty, how do you think people will respond to you? Instead, I recommend tapping into your most purposeful energy. Ground yourself in your objectives, identify what’s working and what you can leverage, and what you’ll do differently next time.
Something failed. You’re not a failure.
Lead the solutions and keep moving forward towards your goals.
4: Try Again (the Lasso Way).
As Ted Lasso says … be a goldfish. Goldfish have a 10 sec memory. They don’t dwell. It’s the ultimate in resilience.
Resilience is the ability to fail and recover quickly without taking the failure personally. Your capacity for resilience is correlated to your success, according to a Harvard Business Review article. But what does resilience really look like?
Sometimes we think it’s our ability to power-through. I was the queen of powering through – which led to a pattern of burnout. Powering through is not resilience. It’s more about resistance, e.g. resisting looking at the failure.
What that same HBR article suggests it that resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure.
So while trying again may not be a new news to you… how you try again is as important trying again.
5: Calmly Manage Stakeholders.
Just because you feel ok about the failure doesn’t mean everyone else will. In a corporate environment, it is common to find yourself in a situation where your boss or key stakeholders are resistant to the “benefits” of failure. They’d prefer to freak out, yell and point the finger.
You can mitigate all that by managing expectations.
Avoid as many surprises as possible by consistently managing up, and then calmly and pragmatically dealing with the unexpected. No one needs to see you freaked out or pointing fingers. You need to be the voice of reason.
Failures will happen. When stakeholders see you consistently as a calm voice of reason, you train them to not worry when something goes wrong AND they’ll naturally feel more comfortable letting you take risks in the future (because you always handle it).
Bottom Line: Your success depend on your ability to fail confidently.
Failure isn’t a problem. You get to decide if how you handle it is a problem or not.