Facing your fear of failure

Posted August 31, 2009 in Latest News & Insights

In the last post we talked about letting our direct reports experience the agony of defeat in order to learn and grow.  In this post, we’re going to talk about how leaders can get comfortable with failing and not turn career hiccups into career flameouts.

One of the best ways that I think you can overcome a fear of failure is to use your disasters as “teachable” moments to your direct reports.  I know this may horrify some of you, but if you can get brave enough to lay your slip ups out on the table and share your lessons learned, you’re doing three important things:

  1. you’re role modeling the fact that failure isn’t something to be ashamed of;
  2. you’re demonstrating how you’ve learned from your mistakes and you’re (hopefully) saving others from following in your footsteps; and,
  3. you’re sending a message to your direct reports that it’s o.k. to take risks and that they don’t need lie to you if something gets botched.  In effect, you’re creating a culture where people aren’t afraid to try new things which is crucial for ongoing learning and growth.

One of my former colleagues used to gather his team together at the end of the week, probably with a glass of scotch in hand, to debrief “the worst client meetings ever”.  The stories were hilarious and filled with learning points.  His team were enthusiastic learners who were constantly looking to try new things with their clients.  Jokingly, he used to say that their firm motto should have been “you could do worse”.  The reality was, working with them… you probably couldn’t get better.  But they weren’t perfect and they had fun with their failures as a way to learn and blow off some stress in a high pressure work world.

Jim Collins in Good to Great speaks of performing autopsys without blood.  Essentially, dissecting your organizational disasters without finger pointing to see what can be learned and applied going forward.  Don’t let the fear of discussing your short-comings slow down your progress.

In the words of Samuel Beckett… Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.  Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Happy leading!


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