Embracing the Power of Failure

Working with teams and organisations to build a healthy organisational culture, I’ve come to deeply appreciate the power of failure. In a world where we’re constantly bombarded with messages about the importance of success, it’s easy to forget that some of our greatest lessons and breakthroughs often come from our missteps.

 

Failure as Feedback: A Core Principle of NLP

One of the fundamental principles I learned during my training in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) was that “there is no failure, only feedback.” This simple yet profound idea has shaped my approach to both personal and professional challenges. When we reframe failure as feedback, we open ourselves up to the valuable insights and learning opportunities that often lie hidden within our mistakes.  After each of my client meetings, I like to evaluate and ask myself ‘what went well and what would I do differently the next time?’  I try to avoid taking out a stick to beat myself with and take an approach based on curiosity and taking each meeting as a learning opportunity.

 

The Need for Psychological Safety

This concept of failure as feedback ties directly into the popular leadership development topic of “psychological safety.” In order for individuals and teams to truly thrive, they need to feel safe to take risks, speak up, and even make mistakes without fear of judgment or repercussion. When people feel empowered to be vulnerable and transparent about their challenges, it fosters an environment of trust, collaboration, and continuous improvement.  We’ve seen too many times in industry where people have been penalised for speaking up and this stems from a toxic organisational culture which is not a sustainable model for growth and long-term success.

man slapping forehead beside woman, in an office setting

Reframing failure as feedback helps foster a culture of growth and continuous improvement

Lessons in the Political Sphere

We’ve recently seen this play out in the realm of politics, with local and European elections resulting in both “wins” and “losses.” However, if we are to truly succeed as a society, we must redefine our understanding of failure. Rather than viewing electoral defeats as catastrophic failures, we should embrace them as opportunities for growth, reflection, and course correction.

 

Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘Man in the Arena’ Speech

In his famous “Man in the Arena” speech, Theodore Roosevelt emphasized the importance of taking risks and facing challenges head-on. He said:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

 

Three Tips for Reframing Failure

1. Adopt a Learner’s Mindset

When faced with a setback or mistake, approach it with curiosity and a genuine desire to understand what went wrong. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?” and commit to doing things differently the next time.  Don’t be afraid to change your approach and try new things!

2. Foster a Culture of Psychological Safety

As a leader, actively create an environment where people feel safe to take risks, speak up, and admit to their mistakes. Celebrate failures as opportunities for growth and improvement.  To do this, the communication touch points such as one to ones, team meetings and other group discussions, must allow time for reflection on successes and opportunities for improvement.

3. Shift Your Perspective

Instead of viewing failure as a negative outcome, reframe it as a chance to gain valuable feedback and insights that can propel you towards greater success. Embrace the “wins of failure” and use them to fuel your progress.

 

By redefining failure as feedback and embracing the lessons it has to offer, we can unlock new levels of personal and professional growth. As we navigate the ever-changing landscape of life, business and in politics, let us remember that the true measure of success lies not in the absence of failure, but in our ability to learn, adapt, and thrive in the face of adversity.

 

Check out our post Authentic Leadership: Will the Real Me Please Stand Up? to learn more about how embracing authenticity can enhance your leadership skills and organisational culture.

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