How Great Leaders Overcome Failure

Great leaders often meet failure on the road to success. Dr. Seuss’ first book was rejected 27 times before being published. Col. Sanders’ finger-lickin’ good chicken recipe was turned down 1,009 times before he sold it. Rather than be stranded on the side of the road, each applied the lessons they learned to eventually achieve success. So can you. Here are some pointers for how leaders overcome failure and on finding lessons to arrive at a successful destination.

Monitor with Metrics

A key to coping with failure is to recognize the mile markers so you can see what’s ahead. Start by establishing how you’ll monitor your progress. It might be the number of new visitors to your website or the number of people who came to your grand opening. If you’re off track, it may be time to find another route. Metrics like this help you identify if failure is on the horizon. That can help you avoid or reduce its impact.

Reframe Failure

Failure can be an opportunity to grow, but not if you dwell on it too long. At some point, you need to take what you learned and move on. One way to do that is to reframe the situation and put a more constructive spin on it. For example, it took Thomas Edison over 10,000 tries before inventing the light bulb. He reframed his missteps by saying, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Plan for the “What-Ifs”

Even with the best of plans, things can go south. So have a “Plan B” in your back pocket. Say there’s a rumor that a key supplier is going out of business. If that happens, it would cause a major disruption in your supply chain. So identify, in advance, who will make the call to act, what resources you’ll have to respond, and what action you’ll take. Having a contingency plan helps take some of the anxiety out of this potential failure.

Avoid the Blame Game

Effective leaders use failure as an opportunity to learn, not to find fault and punish. So the last question you should ask is who’s at fault. That kind of thinking may stifle future innovation. If you know you’re going to be punished for failure, then you’re less likely to try something new. Instead, look for factors that led up to the failure. Was the timing off? Did we have inaccurate information? Were people not trained adequately? Each is something you can learn and fix the next time around.

Recognize the Cycle

Success (and failure) tends to run in cycles. Think of it like driving on a hilly road. Once you successfully crest the top of the hill, you descend downward. Eventually you meet up with the next hill where you again rise to the top. This pattern of up and down (or success and failure) is part of a natural cycle that eventually gets you to your destination. So failure isn’t something to avoid but to anticipate as part of your business cycle.

Failure doesn’t have to leave you abandoned on the highway. Tips like these can help get your business back on the road to success.

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