7 Ways to Fail and Maintain Credibility
Failing well enhances leadership credibility; failing poorly destroys it.
“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” George Bernard Shaw
Failures are inevitable. You’ll fail because of:
- Unrealistic goals
- Misappropriated resources
- Changing conditions and circumstances
- Lack of skill
- Poor preparation
- Inadequate or inaccurate information
- Wrong assumptions
“While one person hesitates because he feels inferior, the other is busy making mistakes and becoming superior.” Henry C. Link
How to fail well
- Don’t overreact when you fail. It makes you look weak and insecure.
- Don’t pretend everything’s OK. That makes you look disconnected and out of touch.
- Take responsibility don’t blame. People respect responsible leaders.
- Say, “I was wrong.”
- Accept your limitations while committing to improving them. No one expects you to know everything. They do expect you to improve.
- Say, “Next time.” It helps as long as it’s not over used. “Next time we’ll seek more input.”
- Maintain positivity. Getting down on yourself and others won’t take you where you want to go. Leaders press through failure into the future.
“What we call failure is not the falling down but the staying down.” Mary Pickford
Success buffers failure
- You’re done if you don’t frequently get the job done.
- Keep successes in the spotlight by highlighting the contributions others make.
- Focus on progress while addressing problems. “Are we making progress?”
- Build and fuel momentum. Momentum makes failures seem smaller.
Failures are inevitable and seldom final.
However, nothing sustains your credibility if you consistently fail. Therefore, you’ll go farther if you adopt a “failure philosophy” that keeps you and your organization leaning into the future rather than stuck in the past.
What suggestions can you offer for failing well?
I’m starting to see a theme here. As if your interview with Joe Tye wasn’t enough http://goo.gl/LF3bu to remind us to be a successful failure, now you just hold the mirror up to make us examine our own failures. How often do we look in the mirror and do nothing about what we see?
Having a plan to “fail well”, for me, starts with embracing change. Actually looking for the areas in my business that have the potential to change the most and running toward those changes. I’ve heard too many stories of leaders being wary or down right scared to evolve and grow. Instead of seeing change as opportunity.
Ironically, even when Gene Kranz spoke the words, “Failure is not an option!”, as the Flight Director for the infamous Apollo 13 space mission, it was because of failure that his team had to rise to the occasion and create solutions to get that flight crew home. To me, that epitomizes having a plan to fail…well!
Keep holding up the mirror for us!
Thank you for a wonderful comment.
When I read your statement.. “look for the areas in my business that have the potential to change the most …” It made me think about seeking the opportunities where we can make the highest impact.
Thanks for adding value to the conversation.
The following dialog from the movie Apollo 13 is one of my favorites, for it is less often misunderstood as fear of failure as the more well know ‘Failure is not an option’
‘NASA Director: This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever faced.
Gene Kranz: With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour. ‘
Love that quote. Thanks for leaving it.
It starts with taking responsibility.
In every job I’ve had, when something went wrong, either the people involved were looking at their shoes or pointing fingers at others. Failing well means realizing that failure doesn’t mean the end of the world, it’s an opportunity to open up communication and improve.
But first, you have to be able to stand up, be honest and strong enough to say, “Yep, that was me.”
I think you are nailing it.
Perhaps one reason we are reluctant to take responsibility is we identify ourselves with the failure. We make judgments about “who” we are rather than “what” we do.
I agree that we define ourselves and other by failures.
We label our entire life by failure which does not breed hope.
This mentality devalues our person.
I have adopted the mentality “failing doesn’t make you a failure.” This has helped me and reading your blog with the post is teaching me how to handle and recover from failure.
I am in a paradigm shift of divorcing failure with my value as a person. I also now see that sometimes it is impossible to succeed without failure because success and failure are on the same path of a fulfilling life.
As a student I’m always assigned to group work. Being the person who usually takes the lead in those groups I get to see how quick other students are to judge myself and other team leads if the team doesn’t succeed the first time around on an assignment.
Though my example may be on a much smaller scale than what a business might see, I think it’s kind of sad that many of the young people going out into the world don’t realize that failing often is the way to reach those successes.
I can say that I’ve only had a couple professors that told us failing was something we will face and something we should welcome…because it means were only getting closer to success. If only education wasn’t so focused on text book examples and looked more at real life!
Thanks for the great post Dan!
Great comment. You made me think of a Thomas Edison quote:
“If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”
You got me thinking this morning Dan. In today’s business world we often talk about success and failure as absolutes. The reality is that life and business are a series of hypotheses – combinations of many factors that we test until we reach a positive outcome. Each factor that we rule out as insignificant – a failure – gets us closer to the combination of factors that are significant – a success.
Perhaps the secret to “failing well” is learning how to frame our goals and strategies better from the beginning as scientists do and share the hypothesis we will test together rather than the “answer” we already think we have.
I shared a little more about this on my blog last July. You can find it here:
There is one more important reason people fail: they took a risk.
The people that blame those risk takers when they fail, are the people that don’t take risks themselves.
The more you failed, the more you tried, and that’s admirable!
I will suggest to put full effort well for failing well. If you fail, you will learn what made to to fail, and next time you perhaps will not repeat it. In the process, you learn things that matter to be successful. Failing without making effort is shamefull and you do not have to shield yourself, even if you want to deceive someone, people will come to know the reality. I also think the luck plays role in success or failure, but it comes only after effort. IF you do not put effort, luck will definitely not favour you, but it will favour, when you put up effort. It is rightly said : Fortune favours brave. So, those who work hard are fortunate to have luck.
I agree that repeated failure weakens you and not repeating failure teaches you. In the organisation, failing well could be making your team successful , even you personally do not get position or promotion. In the family, even if you fail to succeed, but could be able to lift others, it is good failing than being along successful and leaving others unsuccessful.
Fantastic post that is applicable to everyone, not just people in leadership roles. Learning to “fail well” is something that concerns me for the next generation of leaders. When I left the business world to become a middle school teacher the first thing that shocked me was the culture among the parents. They can’t stand to let their children fail. Today’s parent rescues their child at every turn and the concern of never letting them feel bad about themselves is pervasive. One simple example is a parent who, upon noticing her son had left his homework on the kitchen table, emailed me a scanned copy of his assignment so that he wouldn’t receive a zero. When I still gave the student a zero for that particular assignment, the enraged parent contacted the principal. She was so unwilling to let her child experience the feeling of failure that she made a fool out of herself. The boy needed to fail in this case (when the consequences weren’t going to affect his final grade that much) and learn from it so that he could gain the skills you mention in this post. Particularly taking responsibility and not overreacting.
Really enjoying your blog.
Agree that leaders hate to be seen failing, and that we need to be transparent about it – most of the time our people know anyway. I’ve been fortunate in recent years to be able to pick my staff, and I’ve been openly intentional about finding people who can cover my weaknesses, and telling everyone up front what I think they are. A secondary lesson for leaders: if we create an environment where blame needs to be assigned, then our people won’t admit failure either.
Failing is a natural part of the learning process. Saying everything is OK while it’s not, that’s a natural part of how business is managed very, too often nowadays. And the origin of most problems any business is facing, as well.
Failing isn’t bad per se, is everything that can – potentially – be started after a failure that often leads to the “bad” part.
People don’t like to fail and mostly, individuals don’t like to say, “I failed.”
Also, I think, many people like to see others fail. It is kind of a sickness people have. People like to see others self-destruct.
However, if you have created an authentic workplace it is easy to say, “I failed.” By creating a workplace where taking calculated risks and failing is reasonable one has the space to fail and seamlessly get back up again.
Failure is something that we can really look at as a positive thing for two reasons.
1. If we make it to the next level without having actually earned it we’re bound to get really hammered by the next challenge.
2. There’s an opportunity for personal growth somewhere in there and if we can put our pride on the shelf and try to analyze the actual cause of the failure it will ensure the next time a similar situation comes up success will come much easier.
I love the blog, it’s great to have such helpful info condensed for quick reading.
Hmm, may have to reframe ‘falling forward’ concept to ‘failing forward’ as that is more accurate. What an odd combination of words. If we do fail forward, whatever the heck we tripped over can be part of a new foundation to build from. Just have to have ‘real eyes’ to see what it was we tripped over so that we don’t keep tripping. Had a brief flash of Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day, tripping into the water filled hole several days in a row….
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We will all face failures but its the way we handle them that will determine where we will be. We all need to know how to handle failure the right way. Great post and thoughts.
Great article! Failure is one of my favorite topics to both write and read about, and it was neat to see laid out the 7 reasons that you will certainly fail. I find that wrong assumptions and inaccurate information are the most common causes of my failures.
In this day in age, saying sorry is probably one of the most powerful remediation tools when you fail and yet it seems that it is the least used!
Thanks for bringing your own passion to this useful discussion.
‘Fail’ or ‘failure’ are strong negative words. I stopped using that word with my team. The process we adopted needs some change since it did not yield the results we were looking for. That has been my opening lines whenever we were reviewing an outcome that needed an improvement.
This was an absolutely fabulous read, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
My best line “Leaders press through failure into the future.” That is so true, the strength within having been at a phase and understanding what could have been done differently certainly sets you right on the path to doing it better, in which case failing well or succeeding!
Many thanks for sharing, I’ll definitely be sharing this!!
Failure, success. Win, lose. They’re fixed mindset definitions of outcomes mostly. Failure is simply part of the process of getting better.
I’ve used this, from Beckett, as my guiding mantra for years now.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”