Learning from Failure

If you are a leader, failure is in your future. Don’t worry about it, embrace it. Trust me, you will look back at your failures and remember fondly how you navigated your way out of them, what you learned from them, and how you grew because of them. Failure has a funny way of shaping you into a remarkable leader.

Whether apocryphal or not I want to share a story with you. It is a difficult story, but it’s one you need to hear. It is the story of a father and son who—for the son’s 16th birthday—decided to experience a right-of-passage type adventure to mark the boys transition to manhood. This special time took them on a difficult hike in the high eastern Sierra’s of California. 

At one point on the hike, the son slipped from the narrow pass onto a large, steep slope of shale. As the son was trying to regain his balance he began to run faster and faster trying not to fall. To his horror, his father could see that at the end of the shale slop was a cliff and the father began to yell at the top of his voice “FALL DOWN!” In his desperation, he was waving his hands in the air, “SPREAD YOU ARMS, SPREAD YOUR LEGS, FALL FALL!!!” 

In his fear of falling, and being incapable of seeing the cliff, as his father looked helplessly the son plummeted to his death.

Tragic.

As a leader, there will be times when you need to spread your arms and legs and hit the ground in failure. In those moments, DO IT QUICKLY. You may actually survive the fall. In other words, you are going to fail. Every good leader does. So, when you do fail, FAIL FAST.

Once you hit the shale, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, review, reflect, and learn from your fall. Then head back on the trail applying what you’ve learned. In the end, you’ll look back at what you survived and you will smile. With some reflection and some time you will be happy that you fell, and best of all, you will be a better leader for it.

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I Hope You Fail!

I hope you fail.

Not because I dislike you. Not because I want to be seen as better than you. I simply want you to fail, and fail regularly. Believe it or not, failure is the number one indicator of success. Counterintuitive? You bet… but listen to this.

Successful people fail far more often than unsuccessful people

The reality of failure is inevitable. How you handle it will determine how successful you will be in life. If you allow failure to defeat you and undermine your sense of wellbeing you will probably never—truly—succeed. On the other hand, if you understand that failure is THE pathway to success you will use the rubble of each disaster to build a causeway to greatness.

The key is to train yourself to take Decisive, Specific and Immediate action upon failure. In other words; “Get up and try it again,” or “Try something different.” Those who slump back in disappointment or pity find those emotions to be enslaving.

So let me amend my first statement and say:

I want you to fail, but I want you to fail fast.

Last Note: Don’t keep going when you know failure is imminent. Don’t fall pray to the concerns of what others will say, think, do. Continuing on will result in a bigger mess to clean. Own it. Take pride in it. Start over, try it again, do something different… blow it up if you have to…

Fail until you succeed.