We All Fall Down

Humpty Dumpty

Real talk: Failure happens.  When it happens, it’s easy to feel like Humpty Dumpty toppling off the wall to never be put back together again.  Failure often feels like the end of the world, but the reality couldn’t be farther from the truth.  If failure is so common, how can we learn from it?  How can we fail with dignity and grace?  How can we learn to fail better?

Rework, Redirect, Redefine

What is a failure?  Is it a no, a not yet, or a not this way?  Each of these failures come with their own particular flavor. 

Some failures mean not yet.  Timing is everything, and sometimes—even often—we don’t get the timing exactly right in our business.  Have you really failed?  Or have you been delayed?  Again, it boils down into taking a second to yourself to evaluate your current situation.  Your failure may just be bad timing: either when you’re trying to accomplish something, or how quickly you are trying to accomplish a task.  Rework your timetable and expectations.

The most common failure is the not this way.  We’re human.  We all make mistakes.  The next time you or your team experience a failure, proceed with intention and grace.  Take stock of the situation: what went wrong?  Just as importantly, ask yourself what went right?  All too often, a negative outcome casts a shadow over everything; but because you did not achieve your desired outcome does not mean everything was bad.  Redirect your efforts and try again.

True failures, a true no, are actually much rarer than you might think!  Most of the time, when we run into no’s in our lives, it’s not so much the failure or situation which brings an end to things: instead, it’s the individual deciding not to try again. The next time you find yourself facing failure, take a moment and ask yourself if it is actually a failure.  Redefine the situation and put your energy into the next attempt.

But how to deal with failure in the moment?

When You Fail

The number one thing to do when you find yourself facing failure in the workplace is to ask why.  What happened?  How did you end up here?  Take an honest inventory of events.  Don’t cut yourself any slack, but don’t needlessly beat yourself up, either. 

Next, don’t take it personally.  You care about your team and your business.  When something goes wrong because of your decisions or actions, when your failure makes your team’s day a little (or a lot!) harder, it is easy to have a strong emotional response.  Establish boundaries.  You are not your day-to-day performance.  A failure today does not undermine your worth as a person.  The harder you take failures, the harder it is to bounce back after.

Finally, keep moving.  Mistakes happen.  Failures happen.  Sometimes that means forgetting to restock on toner for the printer, sometimes it’s not vetting a new employee thoroughly enough.  Big or small, you will fail eventually.  When it happens, deal with it quickly and decisively.  Don’t let the situation fester or it could infect your business as a whole.  Once the situation has been dealt with, look to the future and get on with your day.

When Your Team Fails

Step one is to treat your employees the way you would want to be treated.  The above ideas are still applicable: find out why the failure occurred, don’t take it personally, keep moving.  But when your team is experiencing a failure, it becomes your job to help shepherd them through the experience.

While it is important to establish boundaries between yourself and your professional life, let your employees feel their emotions.  They might be angry, frustrated, anxious, or nervous.  Keep an open-door policy in place so they know they can come to you to vent their negative feelings.  Then, help them put things into perspective.  The business still exists despite the failure.  Help your team to see that the sky is not falling, and things will look better tomorrow.

Your job as the leader is to make sure your team is focused on tomorrow.  Use this failure as a learning opportunity and a call to arms.  Highlight what went right and pinpoint what went wrong.  Get things back on track and keep your goals in sight.

Are you looking to fail better and with more grace?  Contact Leadership Delta today!  We can help you smooth those road bumps along the way for a smoother tomorrow.