The Advisor’s Corner – Can Failure Be My Friend?


How can I stop being so worried about failing?

StrategyDriven Response: (by Roxi Hewertson, StrategyDriven Principal Contributor)

Too often, our self-worth and confidence are all tied up with having to succeed all the time at everything. No one succeeds at anything, even their best skill set, all the time! Absolutely NO ONE. Think about it. Thomas Edison had it right when he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

To jump-start an internal paradigm shift about failure, consider these 6 ways to lead using failure as a tool.

  1. SAFETY: make it safe for people to experiment and fail within reasonable ranges.
  2. AGILITY: expect and encourage agility and flexibility to move from a non-working idea to a possible one.
  3. LISTEN and encourage fast feedback on results, concerns, no matter whose idea it is.
  4. LEARN: consider every failure, every mistake, to be a learning opportunity.
  5. TEST: pilot test new ideas and projects and welcome mistakes and failures that show up.
  6. SHARE: what you’ve learned and the mistakes you’ve made to help prevent repeats and others having to re-invent your wheel.

The fear of failure often runs a close second to the fear of dying for a lot of people. Consider this – the fear of giving feedback to your boss equates, for some, to dying, which is… failing to live. Let me prove it to you. The under-a-second internal dialogue goes like this: “If I give my boss feedback, he/she might not like it and fire me; if I’m fired I won’t have any money; if I don’t have any money, I can’t buy food; if I don’t have food, I’ll die.” Snap! Just like that we’ve equated the risk of telling our truth to the boss to… dying. Wow! How did that happen? It happens because the amygdala in our brain sends us all kinds of fear signals, rational or not. Unless we stop, pay attention, and put other parts of our brain to work, we’ll keep letting fear of failure rule too much in our lives.

All failures are not equal. While some carry more baggage than others, they can also carry more opportunity. It’s a choice point every time we and/or those we lead, ‘fail.’ How do we choose to respond? What good can we gain from our failures?

It’s up to each of us to choose whether or not to make a paradigm shift. We know it’s impossible to experience joy with out knowing sadness, or appreciate the calm without ever having seen the storm. We often tell ourselves that if we don’t risk much we can’t fail much. Is that really true? Well, it depends on what you want and need out of your relationships and career. The phrase, “No pain, no gain,” has it’s roots in this very premise.

We can choose to look at failures, at least in our daily lives, as life practice, learning, a pilot project, as experimentation, or even a legitimate part of any innovation process. Failure can be our friend when we take another, deeper look. After all, when children learn to walk and talk, they fail constantly. We happily cheer their successes, but let’s remember, it’s all those failures that got them up on two feet in the end.

About the Author

Leadership authority Roxana (Roxi) Hewertson is a no-nonsense business veteran revered for her nuts-and-bolts, tell-it-like-it-is approach and practical, out-of-the-box insights that help both emerging and expert managers, executives and owners boost quantifiable job performance in various mission critical facets of business. Through, Roxi — “the Dear Abby of Leadership” — imparts invaluable free advice to managers and leaders at all levels, from the bullpen to the boardroom, to help them solve problems, become more effective and realize a higher measure of business and career success.

The StrategyDriven website was created to provide members of our community with insights to the actions that help create the shared vision, focus, and commitment needed to improve organizational alignment and accountability for the achievement of superior results. We look forward to answering your strategic planning and tactical business execution questions. Please email your questions to [email protected].

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