AGL 069: Leading Through Failures

No matter how good you are, at some point in time, you will fail.  It’s inevitable. Failure is not a problem, its promise.  How we respond to failure is crucial to how we is the most important part of failing.  It’s not the failure that stops us, it’s the inability to learn and move forward that stops us. I’ve failed at many projects, on tests in school, at sports and about in every area of my life.  We all fail and we should not fear failure.  I once had a boss that made my team fear failure.  He threatened to fire us if we made mistakes or missed bugs.  This fear prevented us from working at the pace we should have been.  Instead we were super slow, extra cautious, and rarely innovated.  Instead of inspiring a fear of failure, good leaders need to inspire a desire for success. Making us understand that we should desire succeed more than we fear failure.  But also teaching us to be practical, not reckless, and plan and prepare for the failures that may occur. A good leader allows their team to fail, but helps them plan and prepare so that they don’t get hurt.

I think of my kids.  In order for them to learn, they need to make mistakes and fail from time to time.  I want to allow them to fail on the little things, and learn from them, so that they don’t fail on the big things. I don’t want them to be afraid to fail, so I don’t scold them when they try hard and fail, but rather encourage them to try again and learn from that failure.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski, (basketball coach for Duke University for you non-sports fans), once said “My defining moments have usually been something where I’ve lost or where I’ve been knocked back.” In the 1983 ACC tournament Duke lost by 43 points. At dinner that night, someone raised their glass and said, “Here’s to forgetting about tonight.” Coach K interjected and raised his glass and said, “Here’s to never forgetting about tonight.”

In tech, we hear the phrase “fail early, fail often, fail forward” regularly and it usually looses its meaning overtime.  Many people think that it is a phrase that gives software developers the excuse to recklessly push out untested code, but that’s not what it means or how to apply it.  I tell my team “fail fast, recover faster.”  It’s a similar phrase, but has a subtle message reminding folks that they need to be prepared if they fail.  We need to have backup plans and rollback plans for everything. It means, don’t be afraid to fail, but be prepared if you do.

We we fail, we need to stay calm, respond and not react, and learn from our mistakes.

Questions to ask when you fail

  1. Why did we fail or fall short of our goals?
  2. What did we learn from this failure?
  3. What early indicators of this project failure did we miss?
  4. How can we better prepare to prevent this in the future?

Do you want to be someone who fears failure?  Or do you want to be someone who learns from it and moves on?

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