Have you ever failed?

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  It was bound to happen.  If you stand up in front of people enough times talking about topics like innovation, leadership, and success, sooner or later someone in the audience is going to drop the   F-Word. 

NO! Not that one!  The other four letter F-Word.  “FAIL”

Interestingly I had been speaking professionally for almost 10 years before I got the question.  A young woman in the audience raised her hand, and called out her question…

“It’s great to hear stories about how to succeed…but have you ever FAILED?”

And the answer was a resounding – Oh, Yeah!

 

But the real questions are:  How can we learn from this?  How do we fix it? Where do we go from here? And occasionally – Is it time to call it and move on?  

Unless you perpetually play it safe, you will eventually come to that day in a job, a project, or other personal or professional  relationship where the F-word comes into play.  I remember an occasion when I was in the running for a job that I really wanted.   When I found out that I did not get it, I asked the interviewer, someone I knew pretty well, if I could get some feed back and pointers on what I could have done better in the interview.  His reply was a real eye opener:

“You did not do anything wrong.  You just lacked some key experience.”

I was puzzled.  I had studied that job description. My background and experience met every single point of the position criteria.   When I asked what I was missing – his answer floored me. 

“In the interview, we asked you to tell us about a situation where you failed.  You could not think of one and to my knowledge you never really have had to deal with a significant failure.  That’s a skill you have yet to develop.”

He was right, I hadn’t.  At the age of 28, I had lived a charmed life, personally and professionally, and had not been a position where I was responsible for managing through a true failure. Sure there were times when things did not work out as planned and I had to adjust or be flexible – but that F-Word was not in my vocabulary.   It was not until later, when I had higher levels of responsibility and was more involved in managing risk that I got that experience.  Every leader does.  It comes with the territory.  You and your team don’t succeed EVERY time.  Occasionally you fail.  And a key responsibility for any leader is to know how to ask the questions, define the strategy, and execute on the plan that takes the team over or around the hurdle created by a “failure”.

To this day, my resume still does not have bullet points under my qualifications that lists out my ‘failures’ significant or otherwise. But at this point in my life – I certainly know how to answer the question when it is raised.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

 

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2 Responses to Have you ever failed?

  1. rikerjoe says:

    Still chuckling over your broom story 🙂

    Too often I see those who associate failure with some sort of personal flaw or see it as the binary opposite of success. That is the farthest from the truth. Failure is part of the learning process. Some of the most remarkable discoveries in science resulted from a failure to prove an expected outcome through experiment – there was much more to learn because the original experiment failed.

    I’ve run into failure numerous times, even in recent years as I’ve led teams to drive towards particular results. In many of those cases, we failed with our original expected outcome. Yet I can say that I learned from each experience and use that to build upon for the future.

    • Great points Joe. I wish I could say that opportunity is always born of success. But often our greatest successes stem from a “failure”. It is when things don’t work that we often innovate in earnest and achieve our greatest goals.

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