Revisiting Failure as a Secret to Success

Nobody likes to fail.  We think failure is the opposite of success.  In organization life, failure is unacceptable.  It demands action.  It requires a response.  It gets you fired.  It is better to maintain the status quo and achieve mediocre results than to take a risk and fail.

Unless you are an effective change leader.

If you are an effective change leader, failure is a part of the process of achieving success.  Failure is data.  It’s information that helps you understand more about what it will take, or not take, to create a successful outcome.  It’s a sign that it’s time to make a change.

Get low scores on stakeholder satisfaction surveys?  Maybe it’s time to do a needs analysis or review design specifications.

Continuing to miss project deadlines?  Maybe it’s time to rework the project plan or assess whether you have the right resources.

Project teams not performing?  Maybe it’s time to learn what makes each individual tick or adjust your management style to be more effective.

Failing again and again?  Maybe it’s time to understand the root causes and systemic challenges (rather than continuing to treat problems with band-aids).

Change agents, innovators, entrepreneurs, R&D professionals, athletes and high achievers of every kind see failure as part of the continuous process of improving.  Failure is the feedback we need to adapt our efforts in the direction of our objective.

If you are a change leader who cares about success, then you may want to rethink your response to failure.  Instead of irritation, try curiosity.  Instead of hiding it, highlight it.  Instead of scolding those who fail, embrace them and have them share what they learned.

Failure is achievement because it shows we are reaching for something far beyond our immediate capability.  Even when we falter, we learn, grow and are strengthened for the challenge ahead.


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