Fear of impending failure can be haunting, even crippling. It can drain our self-confidence, crush our optimism, and stress our every move. It can also ignite us to fight the good fight, motivating us to do whatever it takes to stop it.
But failure will come anyway. When it does, we often feel defeated, believing our personal brand is forever tarnished and our career promise dashed.
That thinking would be wrong-headed.
Failure is an enigmatic bedfellow.
The reality is: Lots of success generally precedes failure. Companies don’t get to failure unless they’ve had a string of earlier successes that ultimately can’t bear the weight of the missteps. The same is true for us, as employees.
Leaders are the linchpin between success and failure. They are expected to take on business challenges and overcome them, facing potentially failure-laden problems like:
- Turning an underachieving work group into a productive one
- Achieving profitability from an existing or new product
- Influencing financial analysts to upgrade company ratings
- Attracting more investors/donors or winning grants to stay afloat
- Reducing costs to remain competitive
- Changing the operating model to increase efficiency
- Restoring lost customer loyalty and/or confidence
Each of these challenges has the potential to tank the organization and the leader spearheading it.
In truth, not facing these challenges will ultimately guarantee failure. Neglect begets failure. Taking on risk is your most important career-enhancing opportunity.
Impending failure showcases the leader’s ability to lead in times of trial. The steps s/he takes essentially buy time, stave off the inevitable, provide opportunities for repositioning, and create more elegant transitions.
Success is between the sheets.
Organizational failures, whether large or small, are often for the best.
When a business ends up closing or a work group gets eliminated, it means that what they were offering wasn’t what the times required.
Business failures are generally the by-product of decisions that took place before you became the leader. Failures are set up well in advance through a variety of causes like:
- A series of weak leaders
- Low accountability and productivity
- Unreliable revenue streams and poor expense management
- Technology deficiencies and ineffective processes
- A weak economy and the inability to compete
Business “failures” are basically transitions. Successfully leading an organization through the fallout from failure is a significant leadership achievement. It’s the most effective way to recast yourself and your professional brand as you move on.
The road to an unwanted business outcome is paved with an array of leadership initiatives that deliver, albeit temporarily, promising results like:
- Redesigned survival strategies
- Redirected resources (people, equipment, dollars)
- New or enriched programs
- Reduced costs and enhanced revenue
- Performance and process improvements
- Expanded partnerships and collaborative relationships
- Improved communication initiatives
- Broader outreach to community and public officials
As you look under the covers after a career-based failure, remember that the story line is about the leadership initiatives you demonstrated. The culmination of those efforts likely:
- Created an effective transition to a new direction or to endings
- Demonstrated leadership decisiveness and courage
- Provided valuable lessons learned for future ventures
- Convinced stakeholders of hard-to-swallow business realities
- Revealed the leader’s capabilities to face adversity effectively
We don’t like the feeling of failure and shouldn’t. But we can appreciate its value and the courageous actions it extracts from us.
It’s easy to lead when everything is rosy. However, it’s the leader who gets us through a ship wreck with minimal casualties who earns our esteem.
Too often leaders blame themselves when things start to go south, as though all the decisions that set that course came from their desks. That’s rarely the case.
When potential failure becomes your reality, it’s your opportunity to step up and take the reins. Your actions may or may not turn things around, but your efforts will reveal a leader’s heart.
Photo from arkworld via Flickr