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Navigating Failure

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

As a business owner, leader, or entrepreneur, failure is the last thing you want to think about. For many, failure signifies loss, embarrassment, and feelings of doubt. Yet failure does not need to be any of these things. In fact, when failure is looked at as an educational tool, an opportunity for growth, it can lead to positive results, results and growth which would not have happened without the failure.

The first step in navigating failure is to change your perspective. When embarking on a new venture, launching a new program, or trying something new, if you enter with the mindset to learn and grow as much as possible, while adapting and pivoting to challenges, you are guaranteed to never fail.

Everything in life and in business, for profit or nonprofit, is a gamble. No matter how well we prepare, the number of community assessments done, the accuracy of the data, and the amount of buy-in you have, there is always the possibility of failure. If you accept this fact, and have a plan of how a potential failure could benefit both yourself, your staff, and your organization, you are in a position where you are preventing failure. The key to preventing failure is to see every opportunity as a chance for growth. Maintaining a positive outlook, being optimistic about your results, having a strong ability to adapt and pivot, will also ensure success.

Once you have mastered this perspective, worked on becoming more adaptable and learning to pivot quickly, developing a sense of confidence in your ability to navigate challenges will naturally arise, further preventing failure. In this mindset, understanding you will need to have a variety of plans, resources and tools prepared, be humble enough to ask for help. By having the ability to reflect and learn on the spot, you are ready to navigate failure.

As we stated earlier, failure is not negative, it can be the best launching board for your career or organization. As you prepare to launch a new program, initiative, department, service, or product, ask yourself what will happen if this launch is a complete failure. Mentally walk through the steps of a perceived failure. As you work through the stages, ask yourself what you can learn, what challenges could you be prepared for, what choices could be made differently. Truly explore the road to a perceived failure. Allow yourself to mentally picture the worst outcome. Explore this outcome. Work backwards from the outcome and ask how you could have pivoted or adapted differently to prevent this from happening. Finally ask yourself if you can live with the very worst outcome. This may sound a bit negative, but it is actually quite the opposite. By allowing yourself to imagine the worst, learn from it, and ask if you can live with it, you are in all reality preparing for the journey in the best, most comprehensive manner possible. You see, by taking this journey, your subconscious will be alerted to challenges it should watch for, or opportunities to make a different decision. You will also have lost your fear, you will be more confident as you prepare to walk the journey.

The most important step in navigating a perceived failure is communication. When you continuously communicate with your key stakeholders and investors, the element of surprise will be lost. When the person trusted to lead a new endeavor clearly, effectively, and regularly communicates where the project is, challenges faced, setbacks, current outcomes, any delays, etc. the key stakeholders feel informed. They may also be able to offer you guidance or wisdom as challenges arise.

Should an absolute failure occur, transparency and honesty are always the best approaches to take. If you have been maintaining constant communication with stakeholders, the failure will not be as shocking as it could have been and letting them know before the public knows will be easier. In addition, you will also maintain relationships because of your honesty, transparency, and communication.

Here are some key tips to help you effectively navigate failure.

  1. Create a statement stating what you learned, what changes will be made to ensure success in the future. Sometimes, failure is due to timing. Perhaps your launch coincided with a blizzard. Perhaps the lesson learned is to watch the weather more closely, move launches to spring, or make the launches virtual. No matter what the lessons and solutions are, be prepared to clearly share them.

  2. Remember no one likes surprises. As soon as you suspect failure is imminent, alert the key stakeholders, board, your supervisors. Be clear in your message. Do not use emotion or too many adjectives. Strive to paint a very clear picture of what happened and what your plan moving forward is.

  3. The person who alerts the media controls the storyline. When you release a press statement and are the person to come forward and say project X failed, the media will either find the press release boring, or come to you for the story. This prevents anyone looking for someone to blame.

  4. As the leader, you always take full responsibility for all failures. In this situation, the use of I is more than acceptable. Stating your team did a great job, worked hard, gave it their all, and you are personally taking responsibility for the failure will maintain your respect, protect your team and your organization.

  5. Praise your team for their hard work. As leaders, we must always invest in our team, praise them, and lift them up. Should the failure be the fault of a member(s) of the team, perhaps work was not completed in a timely manner, have an honest conversation with the person/people responsible, asking what they learned from the situation and how they will prevent it from happening again. Ask yourself the same questions. If disciplinary actions are needed, be sure to consult HR and to make sure you review the situation when you are calm enough to remove all emotion and be logical.

  6. Brush yourself off and get right back to work. No matter what the failure was, do not wallow in it or allow yourself or the team to pause. Clean up the mess and move on as quickly as you can. This will build confidence in your ability to successfully navigate the challenges of life.

By using these steps, failures will become launching boards to success. Learning to embrace failure, letting go of the fear, will allow you to take larger risks, growing and developing at a much faster pace.

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