Leading through Failure

Failure Quote

Failure QuoteAs with anything in life, there are highs and lows. When you’re in a leadership position, the highs you experience in business are more rewarding because they are multi-faceted. The highs usually involve a combination of business goal achievement, rewards/recognition from above, shared success with the team and the satisfaction of knowing your vision, coaching, and strategy is what enabled the team to achieve success. Naturally, the lows can feel just as low. People who rise to the level of leadership are driven and crave achievement. Even when failure is outside of their control, they will internalize it and feel a sense of responsibility and guilt for the loss/error. Worrying about the team’s emotional state after a loss only adds to the weight on a leader’s shoulder.

Most seasoned leaders will tell you, though, that it was their failures that facilitated growth more than their successes. The tough times challenge us to work harder, think more creatively, step out of our comfort zone, and appreciate the wins so much more. The way a leader pulls a team together through struggling times or after a failure is far more revealing than how a leader performs when they’re already winning the game.  Here are some steps you can take to help lead through difficult times:

Be transparent. In business, there isn’t always a scoreboard or game clock to signal how far behind your team is and how long they have to fix it. But even without keeping score, the team knows when things aren’t going according to plan. Pretending that everything is fine and being abnormally optimistic won’t reduce stress for the team, it will only discredit you as a leader and lose your team’s trust. Be honest about the problems/gaps and how you plan to address them.

Put on a brave face. Emotions are contagious. Depending on your natural core composure and emotional restraint, it may not be comfortable for you to camouflage your anxiety and frustrations. But for the sake of your team’s engagement and emotional well-being, it is important to intentionally outwardly express a positive attitude. Foster a culture of persistence and resilience by putting on a brave face and pushing forward every day instead of letting fear infect the team.

Change the metrics. Of course, we’re not suggesting you should falsify numbers, but you can redirect your attention and focus on metrics that don’t evoke a bout of depression. For instance, when a sales team is struggling to hit their revenue goal, find other valuable metrics to highlight that get the team back on track. Set new KPI’s around the fundamental activities that will ultimately translate into revenue gains. Go back to the basics and set milestones that direct everyone’s energy to the right activities.

Find and celebrate the small wins. As I said before, emotions are contagious. To reinvigorate a team struggling to overcome challenges, they need something to celebrate. The excitement and positive energy of achieving a milestone puts extra gas in the tank to keep driving the team forward. Be vocal about anything that is a step in the right direction such as collaboration within the team, identifying a core problem, and implementing a solution. There’s always something to celebrate, and if you can’t find it then you’re not looking in the right places.

Take ownership. Whether the problems are situational, inherited, or the result of a failed strategy, the leader is accountable for the problems as well as identifying a solution. Providing coverage for the team and resisting the urge to blame certain individuals or circumstances will earn respect from your team and from senior leadership.

Take care of yourself. Persevering through tough times and recovering from failure is a painful process. It’s emotionally, mentally, and physically draining. The effects of workplace struggles tend to flow over into our personal lives creating a vicious cycle and toxic behaviors. Give yourself permission to take a break. Go for a walk. Phone a trusted friend or colleague. Vent to someone who can help you past a hurdle. Get a massage. Do what you need to do to protect and preserve your health so you’ll be strong enough to support others. But make those breaks short, because the one thing a team doesn’t need when facing challenges is a leader that disappears.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” -Arthur Ashe