How to Learn From Failure

Thirty some years ago there was this young, highly motivated and pretty talented manager who was gaining a pretty solid reputation for his ability to get results from his team.  The manager had inherited a group of young, somewhat inexperienced team members who were in desperate need of good leadership, which he was more than happy to provide.

Team members responded positively to the manager’s no nonsense, tough minded and very direct approach.  Results were noticeable throughout the organization.  There was one problem.  The manager didn’t know when to back off from the “in your face approach.”  He was over using techniques that worked for a period.  People grew weary of the approach and eventually rebelled.

You probably guessed that the manager in this story was yours truly.  My team members called a full staff meeting and let me have it.  To say that experience was painful would be a vast understatement.  It was also the best thing that ever happened to me as a leader and a manager.

The lessons I have learned as a result of that team revolt three decades ago have been invaluable.  There is no question that I became a much better leader because of the learning that occurred as a result of my failures as a young, cocky and arrogant junior executive.

Failure is our best opportunity to learn. It’s guaranteed that you are going to make tons of mistakes in life and businesses.  If  you learn correctly from the mistakes you make they can become your greatest source of self-improvement. Here are five important things you can learn about failure:

Don’t be afraid of failure. You can’t have success without failure. If you don’t try for fear of failure, you’ll never achieve much of anything. Allow yourself the freedom to fail.

Admit mistakes.  It’s easy to rationalize your actions or to blame others.  Fess’ up. Admitting a mistake may be difficult, but it is the first step to learning from that mistake and growing.

Understand what went wrong.  In the example of my staff revolt, I was like a jockey that over uses his whip.  People stopped responding positively. A technique that worked for a period, eventually became counter productive.  I needed to learn a more balanced management approach and deal with each person and situation individually.

Avoid making the same mistake. You may have to change your way of thinking.  You might have to modify some bad habits.  People are pretty forgiving the first time around.  Make the same mistake again and again, and that won’t be the case.

Look at failure as a learning opportunity.  Your mistakes are opportunities to gain wisdom and for self-improvement.  Failure can make you better.  Embrace it.

Behind every good success story, there is a history of mistakes and failures that made the journey more challenging.  Most of the time, it is those failures that provided the strength, courage, wisdom and character that eventually led to success.