Failure Is a Great Teacher!


What are some of the more common reasons leaders, especially leaders of startups, fail? And, how can we learn from failure and become even more successful because of the experience? 

My friend, Dan Levitan, managing partner of Maveron, a leading venture capital firm he founded with Howard Schultz president and CEO of Starbucks, says this,

Leaders may be headed for failure when:

  1. They don’t own the outcome. They are victims of circumstance and thus lose faith in their abilities.
  2. They are inflexible. Leaders and organizations need to be nimble and flexible to changes in the industry marketplace.
  3. They lose touch with the customer. Product fit and staying relevant to the customer is critical to success!

When negative factors impact our success, we may begin to get angry because, “It wasn’t my fault,” It isn’t fair,” “They didn’t tell me.” This type of thinking is only going to lead to more failure!

Rather than wallowing in what could have been and what should have been, here are four suggestions that you can try that will help you learn from failure and use it as the great teacher that it is.

1. Realize that we all make mistakes. Everyone makes bad decisions sometimes. We are all just human! You don’t have to love everyone, just accept them for being who they are. Carrying around anger directed toward your co-workers, direct reports, or bosses does not help you, your company or the people who work with you.

2. Forgive yourself. You are an adult. You chose to work with this company. In a way, you made a bet. Sometimes our choices don’t work out as we had planned; sometimes we need to change something to achieve success. This does not make you a bad person — just a human being. At a deeper level, the person you are in fact angry with may be yourself. Don’t be personally ashamed because of a failure. Own your performance. You have done your best!

3. Assess the situation. One of greatest challenges for leaders is to let go. Objectively consider your situation. Given the organization as it exists today, do you want to stay? If so, make the best of where you are. Do you want to leave? If so, begin searching for another job.

4. Remember your deeper mission in life. Behave in a way that optimizes benefit for yourself and the people that you love. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face by letting your anger over failing override your logic. I have seen many otherwise smart people make stupid decisions when they were angry. Don’t let this happen to you!