“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
~ Michael Jordan
It’s hard to believe that these words were spoken by arguably the best basketball player who ever lived. If we search history however, we’ll quickly find a plethora of leaders who failed, in major ways, and went on to incredible successes. Rowland Hussey Macy opened four retail dry goods stores and all failed. He learned from those failures and went on to open his next store, Macy’s in New York City. It’s said Thomas Edison failed over 10,000 times before successfully creating the light bulb. He was later quoted as saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Unfortunately, too often we see failure as a overwhelming negative with no redeeming qualities. While failure is painful, there is typically much to be learned from our shortcomings. Often people miss the important lessons to be learned from their failures. Here are five ways to learn from our disappointments.
- Know when to throw in the towel. Some failures become much larger than they should have been because someone didn’t know when to quit. When it’s clear that you won’t be successful in an endeavor it’s time to concede and move on. There’s no reason to prolong the inevitable. I’m not proposing that you give up, rather that you abandon your current method or path and try something different.
- Avoid blame. Don’t play the blame game, if the mistake(s) is yours, own it. First, people will respect you for your personal accountability, and second, the quicker you take responsibility, the faster you can move on to the learning part of this process.
- Ask the necessary questions. In order for your situation to be educational, you’ve got to get to answer the question, “what happened?” This will require you to ask a lot of questions both of yourself and of others. Some of the questions won’t be easy, but this is a necessary part of the learning process. Ask all the questions you can think of and keep asking until you’re satisfied that you’ve gotten the right answers.
- Don’t allow the failure to define you. The fact that you you fail doesn’t make you a failure. Some of the greatest leaders who ever lived failed multiple times before finally achieving success. One of the most important, and admired, qualities possessed by any leader is persistence. Your ability to admit failure, learn from it, bounce back, and keep your head up should define you. Don’t wear failure on your sleeve.
- Start with a clean slate. Okay, this time success eluded you. Figure out what went wrong learn from it and put it behind you. Don’t allow your previous failure to be your restarting point. Begin again with a fresh perspective.
As leaders we will fail. If you don’t suffer a few failures along the way, you’re not doing much and you’re not taking nearly enough risks to be really successful. Oh, and for the record – while Michael Jordan did miss over 9,000 shots, he also made the basket over 32,000 times. Not bad!
QUESTION(s): What is the biggest failure of your career? What did you or can you learn from it?