InsideOut Development

Failure Should Be an Option

by Suzanne Gaker


I recently observed my 6-year-old nephew trying to solve his jigsaw puzzle. As I observed his frustration, my first impulse was to jump in and help him finish the puzzle—quickly and successfully. My desire to jump in and help when he is struggling is real, but so is the cost. We often fight the tendency to protect our children from failure and disappointment by helping them too much.

The same is true in organizations where leaders and managers often protect their employees from having to deal with the frustration of obstacles that stand in the way of success. Like me with my nephew, leaders also have good intentions, but the downside is that we cut off lessons in problem solving and self-sufficiency. We make it harder for them to come up with their own new approaches and new solutions when we are not available to offer our “help.” If someone is struggling, we think our job is to help him/her get back on the right path. But the real job of a manager is to help people learn from failure and move forward.

Taking risk is an inherent part of today’s business environment. Pushing beyond our comfort zone is a critical component of innovation, and since failure is a necessary part of innovation, how can we allow others to experiment without fear of failure? First, don’t require perfection. Perfection can hold others back because it can prevent them from taking the necessary risks that success requires. Instead, cultivate courage to try new things. Challenge others to think differently—outside the box.

While failure can shake our confidence and make us question our abilities, it can also be an opportunity in disguise. Many new ideas fail initially—that’s just the reality of life. What separates successful people from unsuccessful people is the ability to bounce back from failure and come up with new ideas. For people and businesses, how we respond to failure is a key part of becoming successful in the long term.

Today, the most progressive leaders realize that great success depends on great risk, and failure is simply a common byproduct. They know that innovation requires coming up with potentially risky breakthrough ideas, plans, and products, fearlessly—without fear of failure, rejection, or punishment.

How does one stay motivated after failure? Accept that failure is an essential part of the growth and innovation process. It’s important to push through this stage by trying again, experimenting, and making changes.

So, how can we encourage people to enter into a fearless mindset? In order to nurture innovation and inspire generating great new ideas, leaders must create a safe environment for employees to try new things without fear of negative consequences. If employees know it’s OK to fail sometimes, it opens up people to more innovative ideas.

Failure can be one of life’s greatest teachers and can be as powerful a tool as any in reaching great success. It’s said that Thomas Edison had 1,000 failed attempts before he developed a successful light bulb prototype. When asked how it felt to fail 1000 times, he responded, “I didn’t fail 1000 times, the light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Next time you fail don’t look at it as the end of the world. Accept that you failed, learn from the experience, and come up with a new and better idea for next time. You can learn to accept failures as your path to success

Category: Conversations Leadership Performance

Picture of Suzanne Gaker

Suzanne Gaker has over 35 years of experience delivering solutions that develop more effective leaders. As a former Executive Director in Human Resources for The Kroger Co., she was responsible for the personal and professional development opportunities for over 310,000 hourly and management associates. Outside of the office, Suzanne enjoys gardening, traveling, and volunteering at a local no-kill animal shelter. She is proud to share her home with a spoiled rotten rescue bulldog named Tallulah.

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