3 Lessons to Learn From Failure

As businesses reinvent themselves in a post-COVID-19 world, how do we deal with the failures we will all encounter?

After failing to get the invention of the light bulb correct after 10,000 tries Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” 


Failure as a Learning Opportunity

Failure is a normal part of growth. It’s a step along the path to success if you learn to view failures and setbacks as learning opportunities rather than fatal flaws.

If you do not succeed at something, find out why. Take the failure as a source of feedback. Ask yourself (and your team) what lessons you can learn from the failure that can benefit future efforts. Identify what went wrong and figure out the things you (and your team) could have done differently. Take that information and incorporate into other attempts. And there will be other attempts. After all, failure should not be considered final. Failing should redirect your steps, but not end the journey.

When you begin to accept failure as a learning opportunity, you enable yourself (and your team) to “fail forward.” Analyze the mistakes made and the resulting failures. Use the lessons to guide you toward other methods and options, hopefully avoiding the mistakes already made.


Success as Failure Prevention

Success certainly feels better than setbacks, of course. Though failures will happen, success ultimately remains a goal. When you do succeed, take a moment and analyze the success in a way similar to your analysis of failure. Identify what went right and figure out the things you (and your team) did well. Take what you learn and carry over to the next opportunity you pursue. Learn from your successes so you might prevent some of the failures.


Teaching Others That Failure Is Okay

Great teams succeed. Great teams also fail. When a project does not go well, do not blame an individual. Share the failure with the entire team and do not shield your staff from all the burden and frustration. Only through experiencing setbacks and practicing better ways of responding to failure can your team develop the skills needed to handle and overcome challenges.

Great leaders foster an environment where it’s okay to fail. Team members do not hide their mistakes, but share them with the others. They are accountable and take responsibility, but they realize failing does not make them a failure.

Your team must be able to make mistakes in order to innovate. With failure is freedom, because when you discover you are doing something that just is not working out, you are free to try doing it another way. When you teach your team that failure is okay, you empower them to take risks.


Rising Above and Beyond Failure

What you learn from and how you respond to failure are critical to moving past today’s setback or yesterday’s disappointments. To lessen the unpleasantness of failures, take away these lessons:

  • Do not fear failure and do not hide it or ignore it. Acknowledge and accept it.

  • Use it to your advantage. Reflect on how you failed, what could have been changed, what didn’t work and what did. Transform the failure into an opportunity to lean, a chance to change direction.

  • Minimize future failure. Learn your lessons and take appropriate steps to reduce the chances of repeating that failure.


Questions to Consider

  1. Are you, as a leader, afraid to fail?
  2. Do you openly discuss business failures as a team? Do you discuss what went wrong and what was learned?
  3. Have you ever told your team it’s okay to make mistakes and to fail at something?