learn from failure
January 26, 2018

Great leaders learn from their failure – they don’t dwell on it

By Kevin Watson

Having already prompted our readers to review what they achieved in 2017, let’s talk about how best to learn from failure.

To tackle that emotional territory, I’m delighted to welcome back guest blogger Kevin Watson. Kevin is an experienced leadership coach & founder of My Own Coach. I know readers have found his previous posts, including one on behavioural flexibility, to be very useful & approachable.

So, acting on feedback from our recent readers survey, let’s cover some basics.

You can’t get more basic than the reality that we all have failures. So, how should leaders learn from failure, rather than dwelling on it? Over to Kevin to explain…

Great leaders learn from failure, they don’t beat themselves up about the mistakes they’ve made!

I’d go as far to say if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not actually doing anything!

The experiences and events in our lives play a major part in the levels of confidence we have to do a job.

Yet, although two people can go through the same experience, one may be confident whilst the other is not.

Why is this?

Well, it’s what we do with the experience that makes the difference.

Those people with a high level of confidence learn from their experiences, as opposed to dwelling on them. They consider failure as an opportunity to learn and take stock. Then they move on, fast!

For the rest, how about this notion … don’t even use the word failure.

Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes (Oscar Wilde)

Imagine what it would be like if you considered there to be no failures, only experiences.

Let me help by asking you this: can you remember when you learned to walk?

At first, I’m guessing you would have fallen over – a lot!

But, I’m also willing to bet that you didn’t give up due to a lack of confidence and never walked again!

Of course not, what a ridiculous idea that would be.

You learned to walk BECAUSE of those times you fell down. You learned from these experiences and then simply walked, without judging them as a failure and losing confidence.

It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure (Bill Gates)

Have you ever come across the Marshmallow Challenge?

If I’ve worked with you and your team, chances are you have.

I’ve used this exercise as part of leadership and team development programmes, as well as a great stand-alone experience at conferences or to kick-start a meeting.

The challenge is a fun, design and build exercise that encourages teams to experience simple but profound lessons in collaboration, innovation, and creativity.

The task is simple: in eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure from twenty sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. Oh, and the marshmallow needs to be on top.

From studies of groups taking part in this challenge, the better teams are found to be recent graduates of kindergarten!

Not only do they consistently produce taller structures, theirs are highly creative too.

But why?

Again and again, the young children build smaller structures, continually learning from the previous one.

Compare this to business students who have been taught that there is one right way and they stick to it!

So, go ahead and try new ways of working, drawing out learning from each of your experiences.

The real winners in life DO make mistakes.

However, great leaders learn from these moments, whereas the rest will often give up.

Click here to find out more about the Marshmallow Challenge

Did those pointers help you learn from failure?

Thanks to Kevin for those thoughts & a really fun exercise for team events or conferences.

I’m aware that a number of our readers have completed our short poll on reviewing your success with 2017 goals. Some have clearly had a great year. But, others have only achieved some of their goals; which may feel like a failure.

So, I invite any readers feeling that they have not lived up to their own standards, to reflect on Kevin’s advice. How could you learn from 2017 & move forward wiser into 2018, without feeling down?