How do you perceive failure? I want to encourage you to look at failure for what it is, an opportunity to grown and change. Teach your team how to put failure into perspective. Next time you are in a room full of your peers, look around and pick out the person whose team has achieved the highest level of success. There is a great possibility that you will also be looking at the person in that room who has failed the most.
You have two choices when you experience failure – give up, or get up.
Thomas Watson, Sr. (February 17, 1874 – June 19, 1956) was the chairman and CEO of International Business Machines (IBM). Watson was at the helm of IBM from 1914 to 1956, when it grew into an international phenomenon. Watson developed IBM’s distinctive management style and corporate culture, and turned the company into a highly-effective selling organization. A leading self-made industrialist, he was one of the richest men of his time and was called the world’s greatest salesman when he died in 1956. Watson was an incredibly accomplished man. He was also quoted with the saying, “The key to success is massive failure.”
Look through the history books at some of the most successful political, business and sports icons in our history – Abraham Lincoln, Sam Walton, Col. Sanders, Thomas Edison, Michael Jordon – what one thing do they all have in common… they failed over and over and over. Lucille Ball was another failure. Before starring in I Love Lucy, Ball was widely regarded as a failed actress and a B movie star. Even her drama instructors didn’t feel she could make it and told her to try another profession. She, of course, proved them all wrong. By the end of her career, Ball had thirteen Emmy nominations and four wins, also earning the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center Honors.
Based on their examples, it’s easy to conclude that the only way to achieve more success is to experience more failure. Once you understand this, you should no longer be afraid of failure. Instead, accept it for what it is – a necessary part of the success process.
Failure is a learning tool. When it occurs on your team, you can ask questions like:
- What brought about the failure?
- Did my actions play a part in this outcome?
- What do we need to do to turn failure into success?
- What can I do to ensure I will make the right decisions next time?
Failure builds character. You can choose to throw the towel in and crawl into a hole, or you can learn from the experience, gain confidence, press forward, train on your weaknesses and become the person that you ideally want to be. Failure isn’t fatal, as long as you continue to learn from it and train on your weaknesses.
Failure comes with benefits. For example, it encourages lateral thinking, forces you to be honest with yourself, gives you valuable experience, reveals your weaknesses, and keeps you humble. Admit your own mistakes. Encourage others to do the same. We all make mistakes from the day we are born until the day we die. Babies learn to walk by falling down. A MLB Hall-of-fame hitter missed the ball 7 out of 10 times. Every experienced fire chief I know lost a structure at least once in their career. You will make mistakes. Just make sure you learn from them.
We all want to be successful, but teams that have too much success early in the game often develop a false confidence. This occurs quite often in business and sports. When people think they are better than they are, they tend to slack off. This can have disastrous consequences in a profession like ours where concentration and situational awareness are so vitally important.