News & Insight
October 2003

Your Career Path to Success Taking Risks and Managing Failure

Bill Morin<br />Chairman & CEO<br />WJM Associates

One of the most impressive executives I ever worked with was a man who didn't believe there was such a thing as failure. The word simply was not part of his vocabulary. At the young age of 37, he was one of the top leaders in his company. He was adamant that every lost sale, every mistake, was an opportunity to learn.

Today, not many years later, he is the CEO of a major corporation. One of his mantras is, "How you fail in one situation provides the learning that will help you win in the next situation." One of the foundations of his success lies in being able to turn what some people call failure into an eventual success. Not a new idea, but few of us ever really apply this way of thinking to our own lives.

One of your jobs as manager is to get people comfortable with risk-taking and that means getting them receptive to failure. If people can learn from their mistakes, it is no longer a failure, but a "cornerstone" to future success.

The more people risk, the more likely they are to have some falls. Many work environments are fairly risk averse, so this can be a difficult learning experience for many people. As a manager, your relationship with your staff is the foundation for change, which is why trust is so essential. If people don't believe they have a supportive environment with you, they won't risk looking weak or inadequate.

Here are some of things you can do to encourage people to take risks and look at failure as steps to learning and growing.

  • Express your belief in your people and their ability to try new ideas. Reiterate your support, especially when they lapse or fall down.
  • Put the experience in perspective. Remind people how difficult change is and that it doesn't happen overnight. Help conscientious overachievers with their perfectionism.
  • Remind people that this is different from completing a project. Learning is a lifelong experience. There is no end. In the early stages, especially, you will want to position failures as creative experiments -- trying on new and different behaviors until people find the ones that work.
  • Frequently remind people of their success. Affirm them for "who" they are, not just what they achieve.

No one likes to fail, yet failure is often life's best teacher about what is success. As a manager, helping your people learn from mistakes is one of the best lessons you can instill.

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