You’re only as good as your Latest Failure

In my work as an executive search firm owner I have the opportunity to talk with many candidates who have aspirations to move up the corporate ladder from their current rung to the next step on the career ladder.  It is usually easy to see the success that people have enjoyed when you review their resume or check out their LinkedIn profile.  What is more difficult to learn is how they have failed and what they have learned from these failures.

I have often thought it would be interesting to have a group of leaders construct a resume that lists only their failures during their careers.  Just as a resume talks about accomplishments, this failure document would describe the situations where each of them experienced failure.  In addition to itemizing the failure, I would ask them the following:

  • What were you attempting to accomplish?
  • Where did you fail or not meet the mark?
  • When did you first realize that things were not going to work out?
  • How did you review and rectify the situation?
  • Who else was involved and how did you assist them or how did they assist you in getting things back on track?
  • What did you learn from this experience?

I can think back to several key failures in my career and some of them are still painful to review.  There is a common set of things I have learned from each of these failures.  The learnings include:

  • What I didn’t consider when getting started on this project
  • Who I didn’t engage at all or did not engage fully enough
  • Who I didn’t listen to while things were heading for the ditch
  • How i turned the situation around and how did I help or who helped me
  • What I am doing differently now to keep this from happening again

Life is full of experiences and failure is an experience we all should embrace and learn from.  Occasionally I have an interview where a candidate cannot describe a failure in his/her career.  I find this to be a huge red flag for a number of reasons.  Those who don’t acknowledge failure typically have these issues to deal with:

  • The have blind spots that prevent them from understanding their strengths and weaknesses
  • They don’t listen well to the feedback of others
  • They are unable or unwilling to act upon the advice of others when offered
  • They have not tried to do anything significant

Wheaties used to be advertised as the “Breakfast of Champions”.  I think failure is the dinner of Leaders.  When I think of Talent Development, I find that failure is a great ingredient to make a good leader great.

Take a moment to reflect and remember your most recent failure.  Think about what it tasted like and savor the heartburn it gave you.

Now go forth and learn from this.