Don’t Fear Failure, Embrace It!

By Beth Armknecht Miller, a leadership advisor, coach and Vistage chair for Executive Velocity, Inc.

We all fear failing. I know I do. Yet, I also know that without failure I remain stagnant and soon become irrelevant to myself and others. In this fast-paced world, business demands that you make adjustments and changes.  And making change requires you to take risks and fail from time to time. So how do I embrace failure and make it my friend?

When I make a mistake or fail at something I have done, I evaluate what I could have done differently. Sometimes I didn’t have the right resources, such as knowledge, skills, finances or time. Or it could have been a de-railing behavior that leads to the negative outcome. If others are aware of my failure, I ask for their feedback. What behaviors did I display that may have impacted the negative outcome? What are some recommendations for improving the behavior?

If it is a resources issue that requires knowledge or skills, then I ask myself, “Who do I know who can work with me to fill these gaps?” If it is a timing issue, “Do I need to start delegating to free up more time?” This questioning process of me and others is an active learning technique that I use during my conversations with coaches, as well as when I teach coaches to practice on themselves and others.

The more you practice these techniques, the easier it will be to take on projects that will stretch and grow you as a professional, as well as a person. Fear will evolve into a sense of tension and anxiety, which are more positive and motivating.  These feeling lead to movement, while fear keeps people in one place like a very strong magnet!

As a leader, how do you encourage others to take risks? A leader is required to take risks and get others to follow as they take them. And often times just the mere act of following is viewed as a risk by those who choose to follow. For employees to willingly follow a leader into unchartered waters, they must have a high level of trust and respect in their leader. Trust is earned by leaders protecting their team when a failure is experienced, and if they are successful, the leader recognizes team members for their efforts that led to success. Trust is demonstrated by showing you care about your team members.

For a leader to gain respect of her followers, she must consistently demonstrate the ability to make sound decisions and treat employees fairly. Both respect and trust are not earned over night; leaders earn both through their actions and decisions, which model values that are aligned with the people around them. Once respect and trust are earned, then it is time to coach your employees to not fear failure by taking the steps you took to embrace failure as a way to achieve higher-level performance.

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