Section 6: Growth or Failure (from the coaching course)
Here we will look at how society generally views failure, how failure brings growth, and who are some of history’s famous failures.
Lesson 19: Changing our Perspective
Looking at failure from a more positive and beneficial perspective. Failure is a friend not an enemy
We live in a society where growth and failure are seen as two different entities. Usually failure is seen as a hindrance to growth instead of as an opportunity for growth. There is a constant push towards excellence and achievement but when failure comes along people are left feeling downcast and trodden. Messes, mistakes, and failure are avoided at all cost. The fear of failure for some can be debilitating. The fear of being seen as inferior and inadequate adds to the fear of failure. Yet everyone wants to achieve a certain measure of growth. Why? Because we were created for growth. Growth is the appeal of living life to its full extent.
So where did failure become misunderstood? Honestly, I don’t know. But I can tell you that messes, mistakes, and failure are evidence of people moving towards growth. You wouldn’t have these three things if you weren’t trying new things and exploring new territory. The challenge is not so much for your employees as it is for you their manager. It takes a secure and mature leader to be able to provide employees the room to experiment and explore. Add this to ownership and you, as a manager, are in new territory exposing yourself to potential messes, mistakes and failure. This is fantastic and exciting. You and your employees are about to embark on the biggest growth spike you have ever encountered. Your life will only be richer for it.
To help you see a fresh perspective on growth and failure, I am asking you to think back to those moments when you were learning to ride a bicycle. You were now old enough to ride your bicycle without the training wheels. Your heart pounded with nerves and excitement. This was it, you were now a big kid and all big kids rode two wheeled bicycles. You got on your bike. The bike wobbled under you. Your heart raced and adrenaline pumped all over your body.
“Daddy, don’t let go”, you say desperate to know that you have got some support.
“Honey, I’ve got you,” your dad replies, “Now let’s do this. Peddle.”
You begin peddling. OMG! You’re doing it! You are actually riding a two-wheeled bicycle. You check to make sure your dad is there supporting you. Reassured that he is, your confidence and excitement grows. You look behind you and voila, you are on your own. Suddenly, you lose your balance and fall onto the sidewalk, your bike next to you. In a blink, your dad is by your side. He helps you dust yourself off. Picking up your bike, he encourages you back on. Off you go trying again. This may have repeated several times before you were able to ride your bicycle like a soloist.
Now I’m going to ask you this question:
When you fell off your bicycle, did you fail?
The answer to this question will vary. I like to see it as no, you didn’t fail. Yes, you got hurt, your bicycle might have gotten scratched, and you looked a little messy. So what. Your dad wasn’t perturbed. In fact, you were encouraged to clean up your mess and start again. This is Growth out of Failure, Mess, and Mistakes.
Failure is relative. We need to redefine what failure actually looks like. As a manager, you need to take on a positive view towards failure.
The above example, is what the coaching process is all about. Trying something new, letting your staff try something new and further their skills, taking tumbles, and getting back on. What would’ve happened if you had given up? You would have been reluctant to try again and may never have learnt to ride a bicycle. Don’t allow failure to stop your employees, company and yourself from growing and reaching their full potential. Your role as a coach is similar to that of the dad in my example above. You are the one who encourages, facilitates, and supports.
Are you going to make a mess? Yes
Are your employees going to make a mess? Yes
Guess what! It’s all redeemable. It’s another opportunity to go back to the drawing board and look at the problem from a different angle. Another opportunity to incorporate the rest of the staff in resolving the problem. An opportunity to unite as a team. I agree that failure, mistakes, and messes are unpleasant to experience. In it all, your employees are going to need you, their coaching manager, to encourage them forward and show that they still have your backup. The worst thing your employees can hear from you is that they made a mistake and how terrible it is. I can guarantee you they already know that. Encouragement and perseverance is what they need.
Let me list a few of the world’s successful failures to encourage you and your team:
- Thomas Edison – failed over 10,000 X before inventing the lightbulb.
- Emily Dickenson – Famous poet, only sold a dozen or so writings in her lifetime. Her writings only took off after her death.
- Vincent Van Gogh – sold only one painting in his life. Most of his painting were sold after his death, yet he is regarded as a successful artist who made art history.
- Dr Seuss – his first children’s book “And to think I saw it on Mulberry Street” was rejected 27 X before being published
- Winston Churchill – lost his first campaign for the British Parliament
- Henry Ford – failed twice before becoming successful in the automobile industry.
- Walt Disney – fired from his job at the Kansas City Star paper because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”.
The list can go on and on. My point is this. Failure, mess, and mistakes don’t stop success; you do (or your employees stop their own success).
I love Thomas Edison’s view:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
― Thomas A. Edison
This is how we need to see failure. We didn’t fail; we just found one more thing that doesn’t work. Off we go, back to the drawing board. Maybe the next angle will flop, well then we know two angles that don’t work. We keep trying until we hit success. Perseverance is key to growth and part of coaching. As a coaching manager, you need to persevere with your employees and help them to persevere through their problems. We don’t let failure define us, we define ourselves.