T he great Winston Churchill once said that success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. A true leader, therefore embracing failure, learns the lessons taught by setbacks and continues until they succeed. Yet, in today’s corporate culture, failure, for the most part, is seen as a bad thing with leaders not taking ownership of problems. The Harvard Business Review insists that this approach to dealing with failure is utterly misguided. First, failure is not always bad as setbacks are part of organizational life and second, organizations must take responsibility for the problems and go beyond the superficial or self-serving approach to solve them. By owning the problems, leaders inspire their followers and show that it is ok to fail if you strive to improve.
Is there anything more counter-intuitive for most people than the idea of embracing failure? In this week’s story on Platinum Rules for Success, new contributor JeKnows Biz, discusses embracing failure and specifically, it’s impact on direct reports. For those in leadership roles, demonstrating the ability fail gracefully – make them, learn from them, and move on – can have an empowering and energizing effect on teams. When we allow ourselves to release the self-imposed expectation of perfection, we grow faster and learn more, while inspiring those around us.
So, how do we define failure? Professor Sidney Finkelstein of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business was quoted on Entrepreneur as saying that the definition varies among people, and ranges from poor execution of an idea, not building the right team, not having the courage to adapt, generally making bad decisions, and worst of all: not even trying. Homer Simpson’s advice to his children, “kids, you’ve tried your best and failed miserably. The lesson is never try,” is more prolific than we may expect in the business world, even at the highest levels. Forbes note that senior executives tend to have a dependence on passive survival rather than active growth and rarely take the initiative unless there is a crisis.
Having the courage to admit failure as a leader and mentor is a very liberating experience. It will help you progress and empower your followers. Employees who see you as a leader who takes ownership of a mistake, rather than shifting blame to a subordinate, will be inspired and encouraged to be proactive and try new things. They will be more effective at managing problems because they won’t have the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads if they fail. Alice van Harten, a Career Coach and mentor writing for Menlo Coaching believes that as a leader one should be candid with themselves, and reflect on shortcomings in management style and their ability to motivate a team. By doing so, a leader shows they are honest and able to effectively reflect on failure. A leader, therefore, must be brutally honest with all aspects of their failure if they hope to learn and adapt those lessons in a fundamental way.
Some of the best business ideas in the corporate world have come from inspired followers, not leaders. Inspired employees are more than twice as productive as simply satisfied employees. Inspired followers do not need motivation because they feel empowered and are able to do things for themselves. So, what are some of the things a leader can do to inspire their followers? Encourage self-development, acknowledge and appreciate, listen, and most importantly set an example by acting with integrity to inspire trust. The mark of a true leader is their ability to motivate through inspiration.
Learning to embrace failure in a positive way in today’s world requires a paradigm shift which most organizations and leaders are slow to embrace. Inc.com state that there is nothing worse than working for someone who can do no wrong and shifts the blame to a lower manager or pretends that a setback never happened. By embracing failure and analyzing its root causes, we move past the preconceived notions of disappointment, and evolve into better leaders and mentors able to inspire those around us. Inspired followers do not need additional motivation because their leaders have already instilled a sense of purpose and meaning which is motivation in and of itself.
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JeKnows Biz is professional business writer. She specializes in developing team-building programs for a wide range of companies. Outside of work she is a keen tennis player.