Resilient Leaders Have One Thing in Common: Failure

June 28, 2016

The idea that failure is an integral part of one’s professional journey is not new. We talk about embracing failure, learning from failure, celebrating failure. We have the right idea, but it’s just that—an idea.

Truth #1: Failure Helps You Grow

The first step in making failure constructive is also why failure is important: failure is an opportunity for growth.

When you are successful, and things are going great, you might be building skills, but you are not learning fundamental truths.

Failure—done right—propels you into exponential growth. You must take a hard look at yourself and your business. Failure necessitates a total reassessment that does not gloss over the bad bits.

Truth #2: You Can Prepare to Fail

If you are strategic, you can become better at dealing with failure over time. Getting over that first hump—the first time you really fail at something—is key.

People are generally surprised the first time they experience failure, and the furthest thing from their minds is understanding that they are in a place of growth. They aren’t able to move on to figuring out what they learned from the mess–and using that to better themselves.

This sounds strange, but you have to prepare to fail.

Recognize the inevitability of failure. No matter how special you are or how much great planning you do, you will fail. So plan for it.

Be assured of your abilities, but remember that there are forces beyond your control. Or, when you make a bad choice, that’s on you. Be ready to deal with the fall-out.

When making a professional decision with any amount of risk, have a clear idea of all the outcomes that might result from your choice. If Plan A doesn’t come to fruition, what is your Plan B?

Don’t be blindsided by failure. Understanding the worst-case scenario can help mitigate some of the damage. It can also help you get started on your recovery plan faster. Failure is always easier to handle when you have thought it through.

Lie: People Are Born Resilient

As Sheryl Sandberg so eloquently put it in her commencement speech to the University of California, Berkeley’s class of 2016:

“You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are—and you just might become the very best version of yourself.”

Build resilience in yourselves. You have the ability to get through absolutely anything.

Talking about failure is difficult. It is difficult to be 100% committed to taking control of your career, knowing that you are accepting responsibility for the failures along the way. But, you will fail many times in your journey. After a brief interlude of despair, switch into your growth mindset and recognize that this is a moment for you to learn.

In a widely-watched TED Talk, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of blockbuster seller Eat, Pray, Love, describes her early years trying to make it as a struggling writer. For years, she submitted essays and manuscripts to editors, only to be rejected. So, why did she keep trying? What fed her resiliency that ultimately led to great success? She loved writing more than she hated failure.

Approach your professional journey with the same passion. Be more committed to your dreams than you are intimidated by the idea of failing. This kind of conviction can make a bad presentation or botched interview feel small compared to the faith you have in your greater ambitions.


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About The Author

Debby Carreau, MBA, CHRP, CEO & Founder Inspired HR, A three-time inductee as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women™ and author of The Mentor Myth, Debby Carreau is a proven leader helping businesses create great workplaces. As CEO and Founder of Inspired HR, her organization advises businesses on optimizing the workplace experience and becoming an employer of choice.

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