Management Matters: Fail To Succeed

If you Google the word ‘success’ you will up with 157 million responses. A large portion of those are articles with clearly outlines steps take that will result in your triumph at work, in relationships, and your life.

Of course, how you define success will matter. Is it determined by external and observable benchmarks like income, how many people in your employ, the amount of sales made? Perhaps you define success by internal or personal preferences such as the amount of flexibility you have with work or the satisfaction you feel. Maybe, for you, success is both external and internal affirmation?

The ability to attain or exceed goals and objectives that are set at work, those we set for ourselves, or those objectives that our parents or societies as signs of someone’s success often determines how we end up defining success for ourselves.

But when I talk with the people who are seen as successful by many others, they tell me that it’s their failures on which their success is built.

How can we help encourage failure and build our success on its’ foundation?

  • Try New Things – Don’t always stick with the tried and true ‘safe’ approach; try something different. Failure is a lot more common than success and that there is much to be learned from it. Everything was new once.
  • No One Dies – Failure should not be fatal. There is a lot to learn from failing and that is what should be articulated. Failure has value if you learn from it. Do a postmortem on the experience.
  • Identify Failure – Know when something isn’t a success. That is easier when you have been able to clearly articulate what success will look like. Cutting your losses and moving on isn’t easy but it is essential.
  • Don’t Be Seduced By Your Own Idea– It’s easy to get fall in love with ‘your’ plan but take heed! Adoring your own ideas can be seductive but it can mean losing your objectivity. Just because it’s your idea doesn’t mean that it can’t or won’t fail.
  • Get Feedback – Gather data from others about viability. Test possible options out and keep what works. The more options you have, the more viable choices you can pick from.
  • Remember Lessons from Childhood, High School and College – While there may have been pressure to succeed, you learned about what you were good at and what you were not good at when you were younger by trying a variety of things. You can fail a test and still pass the class. You can fail a class and still get a diploma. You can also earn a great degree with a solid GPA and still struggle to find employment. As long as your failures are not too spectacular, you’ll be able to continue moving forward.

A very successful client hired me to help him create his keynote presentation for a major conference. At first he wanted to tell the story of his own personal recipe for success. I challenged his thinking, and asked him what the though his audience wanted to hear. Instead of a formulaic version of his professional climb, what had made him successful was the mistakes, missteps and challenges that he had dealt with so effectively. His success was the combination of doing many things expertly and being able to recover swiftly from his errors. His presentation ended up being the unvarnished account of how he built his organization and earned him a standing ovation.

It isn’t always easy to see failure as an opportunity. Especially at the time! The goal isn’t to get comfortable with failure but to see it as an important step is learning how to be successful. Rather than insist on no failure, aim for keep the percentage of success high.

Joni Daniels is Principal of Daniels & Associates, a management training and development consulting practice that specializes in developing human resources in the areas of leadership and management training, interpersonal effectiveness and efficiency, skill- building, and organizational development interventions. With over 20 years of experience, she is a sought after resource for Fortune 500 clients, professional organizations, higher education, media outlets and business publications. Joni can be reached at

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