Hey Managers…Can You Embrace Failure?

With the upcoming election we are bombarded with campaign commercials.  Over the past couple of decades election campaigns have turned negative.  Candidates love to tell everyone about what is wrong with the candidate they are running against. They are very specific about what they believe their opponent has done wrong and where they failed.  They also tell you about all the great things they are going to do, but they are rarely very specific about what that will be.  They never talk about their own failures.

Some people are motivated more by fear than positive results.  Obviously, the very smart people who run these election campaigns have learned that we don’t like failure and have little tolerance for it.  What is interesting is that most of the greatest people in history have experienced significant failures.  Many people who have experienced great financial wealth went bankrupt at one time in their life.  Some of the names you might recognize are Henry Ford, Walt Disney, P.T. Barnum, Mick Fleetwood and Abraham Lincoln.   There is also a very impressive list of people who did not go bankrupt but have been fired from their job.  These people include Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Seinfeld, Madonna, Bill Belichick and Lee Lacocca.  Thomas Edison, one of the greatest inventors of all time, never believed in failure in the negative sense.  Instead, it was an event allowing him to get one step closer to achieving success.  The book Adapt, by Tim Harford, makes a compelling case backed by countless facts for why risk, failure, and experimentation are necessary to find great ideas.

Over the years I have worked with many people and have found that a majority of them truly fear failing.  I have also seen where Managers have little tolerance for people who fail when they were willing to take a risk.  The reality for most people is you have to fail many times before you actually achieve success.  I think the problem is how people define failure. Watch a kid who is just learning how to walk.  They pick themselves up and then they fall down.  They pick themselves up and then they fall down, again and again, undeterred.  Each time they fall down, did they fail?  I don’t think so.  I think they are learning.  They are learning more than to walk, they are learning to strive to be better. Personally, I have to agree with Thomas Edison.  There is no such thing as failure.

With that said there are two important points to consider:

1.    As a manager, you need to give people the opportunity to fail.  When they have a problem, which they will, you need to evaluate how they respond when something goes wrong , not the failure itself.
2.    You cannot be afraid to fail.  Again, what is important is how you react when things go awry. Do you step up and try to figure out how to make it work or do you blame other people, circumstances, etc?

“I never thought of losing, but now that it’s happened, the only thing is to do it right. That’s my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life.” Muhammad Ali

In conclusion, don’t be the politician. Instead, embrace failure. Tolerate failure with your employees and become extremely successfully from everything you learn when things do not work out the first time around.

By, Greg Thiesen, President and CEO, Red Book Solutions and B2A – Over 30 years of experience in various areas – President and CEO of  Red Book Solutions and B2A, Turnaround Specialist with Doering and Eastwood, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Information Officer for a major division of Conagra, Inc. and Senior Manager and a Certified Public Accountant with Ernst and Young.


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