How Do You Respond to Failure?
“Some of the most important and insightful learning is far more likely to come from failures than from success.” ~ Former Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley, interviewed in Harvard Business Review (April 2011)
How we respond to failures and bounce back from our mistakes can make or break our careers. Resilience is a key to successful leadership. The wisdom of learning from failure is undeniable, yet individuals and organizations rarely seize opportunities to embrace these hard-earned lessons.
Harvard business professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter is unequivocal: “One difference between winners and losers is how they handle losing.” Even for the best companies and most accomplished professionals, long track records of success are inevitably marred by slips and fumbles.
Kanter has written many stories from business and sports about resilience in Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streak Begin and End.
Our response to failure is often counterproductive: Behaviors become bad habits that set the stage for continued losses. Just as success creates positive momentum, failure can feed on itself. Add uncertainty and rapidly fluctuating economics to the mix, and one’s ability to find the right course is sorely tested.
Long-term winners and losers face the same ubiquitous problems, but they respond differently. Attitudes help determine whether problem-ridden businesses will ultimately recover.
Luckily, most of us can learn to become more resilient with training and coaching, visit my website at coach4lrds.com
The Best of Times, the Worst of Times
Take the example of two typical MBA graduates in my coaching practice who were laid off from their positions during the recession. Both were distraught. Being fired provoked feelings of sadness, listlessness, indecisiveness and anxiety about the future.
For one, the mood was transient. Within two weeks he was telling himself, “It’s not my fault; it’s the economy. I’m good at what I do, and there’s a market for my skills.” He updated his resume and, after several failed attempts, finally landed a position.
The other spiraled further into hopelessness. “I got fired because I can’t perform well under pressure,” he lamented. “I’m not cut out for finance; the economy will take years to recover.” Even after the market improved, he was reluctant to apply for positions and feared rejection.
How these individuals handled failure illustrates opposite ends of the spectrum. Some people bounce back after a brief period of malaise and grow from their experiences. Others go from sadness to depression to crippling fear of failure—and in business, inertia and fear of risk invite collapse.
A great resource for understanding how our minds work as illustrated by the above example is Mindset by Carol Dweck Ph.D. This work clarifies the power of our brains and how to develop disciplines and our ability to manage our thinking. When we discipline our mind we increase our ability to get where we desire to go!
The Bible is full or guidance with regards to our mindset. Paul’s guidance in to the Philippians encourages readers: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Phil 4:8. Throughout the Bible we are admonished to disciple our minds while remembering God wants our best even when we cannot see the best or even the good.
Author and pastor John Maxwell writes on the idea of mindset in his book Failing Forward. This work encourages readers towards an understanding that failing is our friend. He helps his audience learn that how we perceive our failing is teachable and learnable.
Especially in these uncertain times when your next failure may be just around the corner, it's worth spending some time with your coach (firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn how you can become more resilient. Ask me about this if you're interested in learning how…