How do you handle failure? That is an important question to ask. Personally and professionally, we can learn much about ourselves and others based on how failure is handled.
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck delves into this complicated subject in her new book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Liza Mundy reflects on Dweck’s work and makes an interesting point. The public enjoys a good failure, especially if that person finds a way to achieve some kind of redemption. Quite simply, it is a great story (“Everyone Loves a Loser” The Atlantic, October 2013, pp. 13–15):
“Other people’s failures, served up with the right ratio of struggle to eventual redemption, are interesting to watch. Failure and recovery make for a grand narrative, transforming an ordinary person or politician into something more like a literary character. Like odysseys and coming-of-age stories and parables of exile, failure gives a life or a career a pleasing dramatic arc.” (p. 15)
We all relate to this because we all have failed. Ultimately, I think the more important matter is what you do with the opportunities failure presents. Some people let their failures brand them for life. In those situations, we go from bad to worse.
There is a better way. The big question isn’t whether we will ever fail. The big question is how do we respond to our failures? Mundy summarizes Dweck’s persuasive argument:
“Successful people are not the ones who cultivate a veneer of perfection, but rather those who understand that failing is part of getting smarter and better.” (p. 13)
If we are honest, we should learn more from our failures than our successes. If we are passionate, we should never let our failures derail us. If we are focused, we should allow our failures to empower us for a better future.
Whether our own or others’, we can learn much from failure. We must ask ourselves the questions:
1—How should I respond to this failure?
2—What can I learn from this failure?
If we can respond favorably to those questions, we will drive our personal and professional growth. We will thereby drive our leadership, because as leaders, when we fail, we should set the standard in how to handle it.