If you are in business you’re going to fail. It’s how you process those losses that are the true measure of success. If you exchange your loss for a lesson, then you not only use what you learned to better position yourself for winning in the future, you also get to take that big L and transform it into a W on the scoreboard of life.
Now, if you are a seasoned leader, I’m about to give it to you straight: SHAME ON YOU if you create an environment where failure is not an option. If you lay out an expectation of perfection at all costs you are actually costing your organization in the vital areas of innovation, creativity and competition. That’s right, while you are busy cracking your perfection whip your competition is trying new things, exceeding customer expectations and kicking your ass, quite frankly. So you’re not setting your team up for success by suffocating your workforce with an unrealistic and demotivating perfectionist trap. True story.
So how do you strike a balance between leading with the pursuit of excellence and creating an innovative work environment? First, you must keep an accurate and realistic score board. You MUST celebrate your wins. Constantly. Big wins, small wins and private wins. When you have 100 wins in lights on the scoreboard, addressing the occasional loss will be met with less resistance and defensive behavior. The spirit of learning will be in tact.
Next, you must practice the Loss + Debrief = Lesson process:
1. What was the end result?
2. What were our hits? (What went well that we need to keep doing?)
3. What were our misses? (What didn’t go as we thought it would?)
4. What went wrong in the process? (Make notes to improve the process in the future.)
5. What controllables did we ( <— yes, “WE”–you are the leader, you share in the loss) not properly tend to on the front end?
6. What were the uncontrollables that we need to note for the future or perhaps need to accept as an unwinnable roadblock?
7. Upon relaunching efforts or while leading a new project, pay attention to your team members’ efforts and recognize them when you see they are applying the lessons learned through their losses. Then inspire them to continue charging towards excellence!
And if I’m not convincing enough on my own, allow me to share a handful of notable examples to drive my point home:
*Babe Ruth, best known for his 714 home runs that earned him the title “The Sultan of Swat,” actually struck out 1,330 times.
*Harry Potter was rejected by 12 major publishers before J.K. Rowlings was offered a deal for her insanely successful manuscript.
*Thomas Edison, whom we can thank for the glorious lightbulb, said, “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”
*Walt Disney went bankrupt after his first animation venture and was told he “lacked imagination.” HA!
*Michael Jordan was famously quoted as saying, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
So in the end, the important thing to remember is that a life lived in fear of failure is a life simply a life not truly lived. The question is, how are you as a leader going to inspire your team to play big, take chances and exchange their losses for lessons? Likewise, if you have a great example of success that transcended failure, I encourage you to share in the comments.