3 ways you should be embracing failure

Gary Douglas


written on March 8, 2017

Did you know that Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men, was actually a Harvard University dropout, and co-owned a failed business called Traf-O-Data? Also, Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because he lacked imagination, and Albert Einstein did not speak until he was nine years old, leading his teachers to believe he was unintelligent.

Failure is something that even the most successful people cannot avoid, and yet it remains something that we all seem to fear, particularly in our working environments. But avoiding failure means avoiding accountability and responsibility. By fearing failure, you are preventing possibilities for innovation and creativity.

Some people approach leadership from a mindset of micromanaging. In order to avoid mistakes, they disempower their staff and remove any ability for employees to choose, explore and innovate.

The most effective managers allow others to do things that they themselves would not – even if that looks like allowing a ‘mistake’ to occur. In doing so, the employee is able to accept accountability for the outcome and receive the awareness from the choice they make.

I encourage business leaders to become more comfortable with failure by:

1. Allowing employees to work through and learn from their mistakes

When an employee fails, get them to look at what they now know that they didn’t know before. Rather than looking at the result and judging it as wrong or as a failure, get them to ask, ‘What else is possible?’ If they are willing to stop judging, if they are willing to look at what their choice created, if they are willing to continue to ask questions, they are an asset for your organisation.

(Want to know more about how to manage performance management conversations? Read our 10 tips.)

2. Being aware of the real reason some employees repeat mistakes

If you have someone who keeps repeating the same ‘mistake,’ either they don’t really want the job, they are settling for a career they don’t really care about, or there is something getting in the way. Ask them questions. Ask them to be honest about what it is they desire and what they would like their life and their career to look like. Empower them to get clear on what they desire in their life and then to choose it. Failure is nothing but a need for change.

3. Realising that so called failure is ultimately assisting you

Good leaders don’t look at anything as a failure. If something you’ve chosen didn’t have a particular outcome, ask questions. What is right about this that I’m not getting? What else is possible here that I haven’t considered? How does it get any better than this? When you are willing to ask questions, when you are willing to look at what your choice created, without judgment, you simply choose again.

  • I am willing for my people to fail. I give anybody a job and let them choose their success or their failure.
  • When you give someone a job and they want to do it their way I find it much easier not to fight them. When they fail doing it their way, then they will listen to you, ask questions and succeed at the next thing they do.
  • The greatest gift in letting someone fail in a job is that the end result is that they are personally embarrassed enough to change it.
  • If people work for you, you have to micromanage them and make sure everything they do is right. If people work with you and you allow them to fail, they will never fail a second time.

Gary M Douglas is an internationally recognised thought leader, bestselling author, business innovator and founder of Access Consciousness.


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One thought on “3 ways you should be embracing failure

  1. Unfortunately many workplaces today do not evoke a culture of curiosity and wonder in their recruitment process or their work practices. Since I left management roles, where I loved not having to know everything, and could seek advice across any of my team, I found myself at job interviews whereby I had to make sure I knew less than anyone present if I wanted to work in that place. It is both exhausting and unproductive to have to contend with control freak-managers who want to declare all innovation to be under their own banner of success … I would always refuse such jobs because I knew it would ultimately kill my spirit. I don’t like the term “failure” because it conjures up insecurity, disappointment (reduced trust), inability to risk showing any vulnerability, and an imbalance of power in relationships. A learning environment that commits to wonder and curiosity evokes a very different culture … and often results that go far beyond what others thought was possible.

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