Don was a perfectionist with a low tolerance for error. I know this because I worked for him for 2 years. Behind his back we would joke that making a mistake in our department was “career limiting.” But really… it wasn’t a joke. People were afraid to make mistakes. As a result, we took very few risks. Our performance was “average” and Don was happy as long as no one made him look bad.
What I know today is that all innovation, all learning, and all great success involve risk. Stephen McCranie once said, “The Master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.” Average people are afraid to fail. Extraordinary people see failure as a learning opportunity.
I tell my clients that they must learn to celebrate everything. Most of us are really good at celebrating success. We write thank you notes, throw parties, recognize people in our newsletters or meetings, give awards, and sometimes even give bonuses or promotions. But suggest they celebrate failure and people are perplexed.
I’m not saying you should celebrate THAT someone failed. Frankly, most of us don’t enjoy that one bit. However, if you have an employee or coworker who experiences failure, here are some things you can help them celebrate:
1. Celebrate what they learned. Truly successful people know that failure is simply an opportunity to start over with more knowledge. If someone on your team has experienced a setback ask them what they learned. Appreciate their growth.
2. Celebrate that they were brave enough to take a risk in the first place. Fear of failure often stops the average person before they start. If you want to encourage innovation within your team, it must be safe for them to take risks. Let them know that you appreciate their courage.
3. Celebrate their resilience. It takes courage to start over! There is an expression about “getting back on the horse”. I had the opportunity to experience that literally once. As a total novice (i.e. only my second time on a horse), I went for a quiet Sunday trail ride with a friend. On the way back to the barn, my horse took off into a full gallop. Suddenly, he stopped and threw me into the fence, stepped over me, and walked away. It took me a while to get up, and I was sure he had broken every bone in my body. My knees were shaking so hard I could barely stand. My girlfriend suggested that we just walk to the barn, but I insisted that I would ride him the remaining distance. Getting on that horse was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Don’t underestimate how hard it may be for your team mate to pick up the pieces and start over. Be encouraging. Help them brainstorm what they will do next. Express your confidence in them.
4. Celebrate the ways they DID succeed. On a larger project, the outcome is not always “all or nothing”. While the overall outcome may not have been what you were expecting, there are often parts that were very successful. A couple years ago, I closed a business with two partners. We were disappointed when we closed the business, but we realized that there were many things we did well. We celebrated the wonderful clients we had the honor to serve, the positive impact we had on so many individuals, and the amazing relationships we maintained going forward.
5. Celebrate and promote a positive attitude. Of course they are bummed that things didn’t turn out. I think that’s human nature. However, finding things to be grateful for, or even something to laugh about will help them shake off failure and start over more quickly. (Note: Humor in a failed project should be used to lift spirits and repair esteem. It is never acceptable to ridicule or embarrass someone. Years ago, I encountered a team that gave out a “Bonehead Award” to people who made mistakes. That is not heart-based and certainly does not build relationships.)
When your team or an individual on your team experiences failure, how you respond is more important than you know. You can use the opportunity to crush their ego and make them fearful. Or you can use the opportunity to build confidence, renew commitment, and foster an excellent relationship. You choose.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share new tips and ideas on heart-based leadership. If you have specific questions or topics you would like me to address I would love to hear from you! I would also love to have you join the discussion with me on FaceBook at https://www.facebook.com/LeadershipAndLove