How To Handle Failure

We will likely experience more failure than achievement in our lifetimes, which is a fact of life. We are more likely to fail the first time we try something new than to succeed.

How we handle failure ultimately determines how successful we will be.

There is a very simple and easy-to-follow way to handle failure, in fact, it’s the only way:

  1. Admit it
  2. Accept it
  3. Understand why you failed
  4. Try again

Too often we refuse to admit failure, and usually the bigger the failure, the bigger the refusal to admit it.

When we refuse to admit it, we remain in a state of failure and denial, and the longer we refuse to admit it, the longer we put off our chance of success.

Many people, especially with large failures, never admit it, and the denial gets so big that they rebadge failure as success. But this doesn’t really fool anyone, not even themselves.

I once worked for a company, who shall remain nameless, that continued to work on a failing project for 4 further years, spending an additional $60m, rather than admit failure, change track and implement an already identified alternative which would have taken 1 year and cost $10m.

Their refusal to accept failure resulted in a lower quality product, an additional 3-year delay, and an additional $50m in costs.

I am not sure what the actual definition of failure is, but I would suggest that that project qualifies.

Too often it’s vanity which stops us from admitting failure, we don’t want to look stupid or to look like failures to other people.

Well here’s a newsflash – we’re not stupid, we can see the failure, but now we think you’re stupid for not admitting it, not accepting and not trying to fix it!

At one company where I worked we had a boss who we called Cleopatra, because he was the Queen of Denial, according to him he had never failed, he was in complete denial about it.

He felt that by never admitting to failure made him successful, but in reality, it just made him look foolish and earned him a nice nickname.

As a Leader, you will gain much more respect if you quickly admit mistakes and failures, and then look to try and fix them, either by trying the same approach again, if the execution was the problem, or changing the approach if that was the problem.

There is no room for vanity when trying to fix failures, it only prolongs them.

This 4 step approach is very easy to remember and follow.

But it’s step one that we all find the hardest.

No one likes to admit defeat or failure, but the sooner we do it, the sooner we can put the failure behind us and focus on being successful.

Let me know how you deal with failure, I’d really be interested in hearing it.

If you want to learn more about creating highly engaged teams or being a better leader click the link to make an appointment to talk about how I can help.