One of the greatest fears that most people have, is the fear of failure. From the time we are children, we are taught that success is achieving. Good grades, first in sports, best school project. We are taught to win, to want to be out front, to build a “portfolio” that will get us into the best colleges and lead us into the right future roles.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that those things are bad or worth striving for. BUT the question is how do we deal with failure? Society teaches us to push for the top, but does not readily create the cushion to land on when we at some point inevitably fail.
Curious, I asked the following question on social media…
Complete this sentence. There is no such thing as failure, only...
I then waited with anticipation to see what people would say and was pleasantly surprised to get so many thoughtful responses. Here are my top 5:
There is no such thing as failure, only perspective
There is no such thing as failure, only practice
There is no such thing as failure, only opportunities
There is no such thing as failure, only things that make us stronger
There is no such thing as failure, only experience
Like children, as leaders, we are not taught to fail. I mean think about it, leadership by its very nature means that we should have more context or insight, something that makes others want to follow. So when we fail, there are people watching and it is uncomfortable, vulnerable and times can have a meaningful impact on our careers, results and even the bottom line.
As a result, we are wired to achieve. But, what happens when we fail?
I would contend that watching a leader fail for many is almost as important as watching them succeed. How does one lead and show up in times of strain and imperfection?
In my prior life, I led HR teams. Anyone who knows anything about HR will know that the work is mired in a complex tapestry of tasks, strategy, and unanticipated people issues. The opportunities to fail are literally everywhere...EVERYDAY! When confronted with failure I used to tell my teams, let’s not get stuck in our failures, they are just revealing the imperfections in our process so we can make them better in the future. Failure is really the best type of performance FEEDBACK! The hardest but sometimes the most constructive feedback of all. Now don’t get me wrong, I did NOT like to fail. In fact, one of my values is excellence. However, as a leader It was important to stay open to the possibility and learning that comes from failing.
As leaders, one of the greatest gifts we can give to those we lead is to learn to embrace our failures. Not only do we grow, we teach others, many of whom have only been wired for success, to give themselves the grace to embrace the possibility and opportunities that can come from failure.
Today, as you think about how you lead? How can you fail forward and lead your team to not settle for mediocrity but embrace the inevitable failures that will come. When we embrace failures instead of fearing them or having a punitive mindset, we can lead our team to find the possibilities that are right in front of them?
One of our greatest fears is failure, but if we choose to think differently
failure can also set us free.
leah jm dean.
Leah Dean is a coach, speaker, author, and former HR executive who has worked with leaders across the globe to build high-performing teams aka tribes, for over twenty years. Today, Leah works with women from all walks of life but is most passionate about helping women leaders show up with confidence and deliver exceptional business results. Leah lives in Bermuda with her husband and two children. To learn more about Leah's work and her best-selling book Assemble the Tribe, visit www.leahjmdean.com.