As a sports enthusiast, I am excited to follow the ongoing World Cup tournament, particularly the matches being played by the Black Stars. As the whistled went off to end the first Black Star’s match with Portugal, I began to critically think about the performance of the game and whether they had failed simply because they had not won the match. From my perspective, the team had put up an impressive performance and although they did not win the 3 points at the end of the day, they had not failed. There are so many teachings and lessons from what I simply call a loss, and in my conversation with you today, I discuss failure and how we can turn things around when we do not get the intended outcomes from our efforts. Failure has been described on many global stages as a great teacher. Failure is only a great teacher when you as its student learn what you should from experiencing it. Failure in some instances may not be needed at all but in many cases, it is a necessity. “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” J.K. Rowling. J.K. Rowling outlines the importance of living without the fear of failure while critically assessing our choices to avoid as much failure as possible.
In EVERY business there will be levels, degrees and magnitudes of failure. Failure in the general sense as defined by Wikipedia is “the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective and may be viewed as the opposite of success.” Aligning this definition with the business space then explains business failure as “the halting or termination of any business activity resulting from the inability of that business to make the needed or targeted proceeds.” Clearly failure is defined by the goals an individual or a corporation sets for itself. An entire enterprise cannot have failed simply because an individual such as a corporate leader managing a business unit failed by their own standards. It could be as a result of the actions or inactions of multiple team members or other environmental factors such as competition. The source is not the matter usually, rather the question to ask is, “How do you fail fast, fantasize briefly and fight hard?
It is not peculiar to the human being to be disappointed about not meeting certain standards in a business or corporate space. In fact, it is very normal to have your hands up in despair when things do not go as planned, considering the amount of investment you may have made. There are however, a few stages of emotional transitions we will go through which are mandatory, and it is critical that we have the needed soft skills to respond rather than react to ensure that we remain strong in our comeback. The first stage we meet is the stage of FANTASY also known as denial.
At this stage, we feel despair, we are in denial and pay more attention to the attacks and complaints from our environment and ourselves. We position the blame on everyone else and find it very difficult to look within. We feel we have a magic wand to bring a solution and we spend time fantasizing about the impossibility of that situation happening and our grandiose plans to resolve it no matter what. We start on the attack, reminiscing about other people’s mistakes and how we saw them and predicted them. Your ability to pull yourself out of the denial stage determines a lot about you and the experiences you may have learnt from in life.
The next stage is the REALITY stage. At this stage others have come in and had conversations, thought-provoking questions have been asked, externally there is still expression of resistance and there is sensitivity to taking things very personally but internally there are wells of acceptance, accountability and responsibility brewing. We begin to accept the reality – we have FAILED! We then begin to think through the embarrassment, shame, perception, and conversations we are going to have. We begin to wonder and question. We begin to imagine the hard times ahead. At this stage every negative though you can think about comes to light. The challenge becomes REAL.
These two initial stages are key to our third stage. First of all, we must allow ourselves to feel the feelings. We must go through the stages. Rushing the process is not usually as helpful as we perceive it to be. We must take everything we feel in and allow it to pass through. The goal however, is not to get stuck at any of the stages. This enables you to move faster into the FIGHTING BACK stage.
Arriving at the fighting back stage means that you have gathered up the will to pick up from where you failed or even to move on to something new based on the realizations and convictions your experience will bring you. It is okay to start over with the same business or to move on to something new as long as your reasons are valid and your decisions bring you peace. More often than not, our natural reaction is to run away from our first or second attempt at something we expected to go smoothly. Trying again will make it clear that in the previous chapter, you progressed and achieved. It may not be up to standard, but it certainly is a milestone that should not be ignored.
Fighting back requires a lot of preparation and by this stage, you should not be thinking about what you should or should not have done. The big question now is, what can you do now? Not tomorrow, or yesterday, but now! Be mentally, emotionally and technically prepared to continue the journey. Be expectant yet manage your expectations. Be realistic about the goals and standards you set. You do not need to know the entire plan from beginning to end, but you should be able to start and know where you want to end up.
Here are some 4 processes amongst the many others that usually help us along the way:
Fighting back will mean you get the chance to assess the things you could have done better and the things you should not have done at all. Be honest with yourself about how much work you did not put in or the fact that what you are doing is not truly for you. Admitting these things is not a sign of weakness but a golden moment of realization and the true definition of what a second chance is – the opportunity to be better! This process enables you to measure the level of growth and progress you have made from the initial events, eliminating the regrets and taking the lessons. You will then measure the level of your healthy relationship with failure, then step out of the box and mark the milestones of the progress and where you intend move to from there. This is the evolution point.
This process kickstarts the journey of self-awareness. Being aware throughout the process is the foremost and key skill to have as a person. Reminding yourself of who you are, your strengths, your dreams and previous achievement gives you the will to break down the walls you put up. Being aware manages your emotions, raises you up and pushes you into a reframed mind. So you will quickly aggregate your current knowledge, skill and abilities and document them. Then you put down 4 key existing and new business concepts you intend to look forward to and align them primarily to your strengths and then fill in the redefinition of who will take up your areas of weakness and threats and how you and your team will engage your opportunities. At this stage you have moved forward and that document is the master blueprint for the next level.
The network of people you engage can make or break you after your failure. There should be enough space for supportive people, mentors, sponsors, advisors and a willing team to go another mile. It is pertinent that you block out the noise from negative comments. More importantly, you must guard your thoughts and intentionally be positive. There are two key intelligence quotients you will need to deploy at this stage to have a high success with people. They are your Emotional Intelligence and your PeopIe Intelligence. At this stage there have to be clear compartments in your space as to which category you will place people, with a key priority on value. This includes both personal and professional because at decision stages every single action matters. Sensitive stages require sensitive minds. Remember to connect and engage only for valuable input, impact and influence.
Now it is time to take on the new and release the old. Nonetheless, do not forget the lessons and begin to be accountable for what is to come. At this stage the sense of responsibility will be higher but it does not eliminate the option of failure. Focus on moving forward and take action. The key is to proactively use the previous lessons to anticipate oncoming failure and be ready to take responsibility for every subsequent failure. Responsibility is the most important and most practical reflection that failure has been acknowledged, accepted, embraced and subsequent actions will be more responsible.
In times of failure we must remember this: Our SOFT SKILLS must be on priority deployment because as a leader no one is going to see your technical capacity but every stakeholder, whether external or internal is going to focus on your response not as a manager, but as a LEADER. A true leader has mastery and fights back failure from his or her heart, which is the hub of our soft skills.
Our personal failure is not a reflection of who we are within. Practice is the tool of mastery when it comes to failure. Our view of failure must focus on the opportunities ahead to fail again not the limited ones to succeed. The only success that can be measured effectively and named respectfully is the one that can tell the story of massive, catastrophic and debilitating failure that went through fantasy, reality but came fighting back. With this in mind it is time to fail big, fail often, fail fast and, of course fail forward!
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