3 Ways Leaders Can Succeed At Failing

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our My Story Millennial Campaign contest series where we’re featuring the best of the millennial voices. Be sure to keep track of the series HERE.

I couldn’t believe it. There in my inbox sat my separation agreement. An agreement that confirmed my production and work was not up to company standards. My cons outweighed my pros. My “all” wasn’t good enough. As a member of the millennial generation, this was something new to me. I had previously encountered slight setbacks in my career, but nothing to this extent. Failure. It was difficult to take. I, like so many others in my generation, prided myself on my strong work ethic, drive, and fast-learning qualities. These millennial qualities had carried me to many mountaintops early on, but had failed me, and in-turn, my company. I was to be terminated.

Failure is often seen as the opposite of success, as a culmination of bad decisions or choices. In business, this could mean missing sales quota, missing project delivery dates, or simply missing company objectives. On a much larger scale this can look like a full-scale business failure, layoffs, or bankruptcy. So why is failure important?

Failure is the Culmination of Risk

Very few people fail at something they are natively good at. Chael Sonnen, a Mixed Martial Arts fighter and coach, explained it this way to one of his students: “They’ll tell you failure is not an option. That is ridiculous. Failure is always an option. Failure is the most readily available option at all times…” My personal failure was the result of a stretch position – moving into a completely different business sector. While it ultimately was not the role for me, I learned invaluable lessons, received training in previously novice areas, and also picked up additional business acumen. All as a result of taking a risk.

They’ll tell you failure is not an option. That is ridiculous. Failure is always an option. Failure is the most readily available option at all times.

Failure Provides Clarity in Purpose

In a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, Steve Jobs described his experience in being removed from Apple, an embarrassing public and personal failure, by saying, “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” Jobs used his failure to refocus and find his purpose, and would go on to spearhead the invention of the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

Failure Builds Perseverance

Perseverance is defined as steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. Angela Lee Duckworth, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania studying intangible concepts, correlates it to grit. In her words, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day-in, day-out. Not just for the week. Not just for the month, but for years. And working to make it a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” In her studies she found that across both educational and professional settings, the successful people were the ones who could push through when faced with adversity. This was not bound to IQ, SAT scores, or family income values; this was bound to grit.

Successful people were the ones who could push through when faced with adversity. This was not bound to IQ, SAT scores, or family income values; this was bound to grit.

Knowing that failure is important is all well and good, but what can we do when we encounter it?

1. Fail Forward

The most important thing to understand is that failure is not a permanent condition. There will be mountaintop moments where success is achieved, and there will be valleys where failure is realized. Keep going, the climb back up will be worth it!

2. Use Failure as an Opportunity to Learn

Take some time to self-reflect. Journal your feelings and uncover the root of the failure. Create a plan to, if possible, avoid the failure in the future. Read books, take online courses, attend a college class. Use failure as the springboard to knowledge.

3. Failure is Inevitable

You need to prepare for it. You will feel pain. You will feel disappointment. Develop strategies to deal with future failures. Create positive self-talk for use during failure. Put money aside for emergencies. Set goals with the intent of getting back on your feet. Being prepared will make the moments of failure shorter and easier to deal with.

Knowing all of this, shoot for the moon. The only way to achieve real success is to walk through failure. Failure is a key component to innovation. Take risks. Get uncomfortable. Use failure as a left turn rather than a u-turn. The millennial generation is positioned to be one of the most innovative and successful generations, but to do so we must understand the importance of failure, and how we can benefit from it.


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Copyright: alphaspirit / 123RF Stock Photo

Aaron Bartlett has a passion for strategic sales and business development, and has spent his career launching new products and territories. He lives in his right-brain, and will likely develop the most creative strategies to address a problem. He holds a strong belief that learning never stops, and that you can win with integrity. Proud husband, father, son, and brother to the best family around (no bias).

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