Everyone fails. It is part of what it means to be human — and not a single human is perfect. Whether it’s choosing the wrong career path, taking on more than you can handle, failing to maintain a healthy work-life balance or any other dilemma, failing is an inevitable part of your professional development. However, contrary to popular belief, failing doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Experiencing failure, in both professional and personal settings, can force you out of your comfort zone and take your career to new heights. It can help you reevaluate your decisions and ways of thinking. Most importantly, failure and experiential learning can advance your professional development as a leader.
So, how can you use failure to your professional advantage? Here are five tips to consider:
1. Don’t Dwell on It — Look at Failure as a Learning Opportunity
After failing, it can be all too easy to let negative emotions, like insecurity, embarrassment and disappointment, take over — but try to fight the urge to dwell on your failure. It won’t benefit you or your team. Instead, view your failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. What did you learn as a result of failing, and how can you use this knowledge to prevent future missteps?
Mike Bensi, consultant and founder at Bensi & Company and author of “The Success of Failure,” says, “To be able to be successful, we have to recognize that failures are part of the learning path.”
It is also important to recognize why you failed in the first place. Was it the result of poor communication, insufficient planning or improper budgeting? Determining the source of your failure is one way to learn, as a leader, what not to do. “I learn everyday what works and what doesn’t, and if we’re not recognizing that and applying it to how we grow, then we’re missing out on the greatest opportunity there is,” Bensi notes.
2. Embrace Failure to Increase Your Team’s Psychological Safety
As a leader, holding yourself accountable for your failures is imperative in teaching team members a productive, learning-focused response to failing. In addition to promoting the learning and development (L&D) of your team members, acknowledging your leadership failures promotes an environment of psychological safety — a climate in which people are comfortable being and expressing themselves — which has been linked to positive risk-taking among team members.
“Creating an environment where it’s safe to fail allows people to feel like they can voice their opinions, that they can share their ideas [and] that there aren’t negative consequences for doing that,” Bensi shares. Fostering an environment of psychological safety can also increase job satisfaction among team members which, in turn, can help improve employee retention.
Scott Miller, executive vice president of thought learning at FranklinCovey and author of the new book “Management Mess to Leadership Success,” says, “As a leader, if you make it safe for people to take risks, admit mistakes and vulnerabilities … that is a competitive advantage. That is a culture you want to thrive in and that you want to stay in.”
By acknowledging your own failures, you will help your team members feel more comfortable experimenting with innovative ideas and approaches that have the potential to transform your organization in exciting new ways.
3. Reevaluate Your Professional Development Path After Failing
Perhaps failing made you realize you were focusing on the wrong goal, forced you to face the ineffectiveness of your current leadership style, or made you consider new ideas and opinions that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. In these ways, failure can help shape your professional development.
Glenn Llopis, president of Glenn Llopis Group and author of “The Innovation Mentality” and “Earning Serendipity,” says, “Failures make us reevaluate our relationships. They make us more curious about the path we’re following. Failures make people ask, ‘Am I really the one at fault, and how should I become more accountable as I make certain actions or decisions?’”
There are myriad ways that failing can take your professional development to places you never thought it could go. Often, those times when we experience failure as a leader “ultimately turn out to be the turning point that we needed to be successful,” Bensi shares.
After failure, take the time to reevaluate your priorities and goals. You may stumble upon an untapped opportunity for growth as a leader.
4. Use Experiential Learning After Failing
Your accumulation of experiences is key in shaping who you are — and what you stand for — as a leader. Experiential learning, or learning from experiences, is one way to leverage failure to be more successful in leading others. Bensi says that, when leaders draw from their unique experiences, “they’re creating vulnerability in a way, by being able to share, ‘Here’s what I would do. Here are the failures that I had and not only were they OK, but I wouldn’t be in this spot without them.’”
Using experiential learning allows you to learn from the failures that have impacted your professional development path thus far — in order to propel it forward. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, “Your current experiences may prompt you to re-examine past experiences for new lessons. Future experiences don’t merely happen to you. You can shape them, consciously seeking out opportunities to grow as a leader.”
5. Accept That Failure Is an Inevitable Part of Leadership
“Leaders too often feel like they need to have all the answers, that they’re paid to make all the decisions — but that’s not true,” Miller shares. From hiring too fast to failing to provide ample feedback to not delegating when multiple projects arise, Bensi says, “The evolution of a leader is ripe for constant failure.”
Naturally, as you take on more responsibility at your organization, you also have more opportunities to fail. It is only after accepting that failure is part of leadership that you will be able to take more chances, learn from your mistakes and, as a result, advance your professional development.
As a leader, you are most likely going to fail at some point in pursuit of furthering your professional development — and that’s OK. After all, Miller says, “Everybody is human.” By following these five simple tips, you can transform failure into an opportunity for professional development and become a better leader.