Bouncing Back From Failure
A leader who I worked for and looked up to for many years would say about me, “Sam is like a cat. He always seems to land on his feet”. Therefore, I feel qualified writing and sharing about this subject because I have failed a lot! I have also bounced back every time.
So how do I do it and what are the key ingredients to making it as painless as possible? I would be quick to point out that along with failure comes pain. I have come to appreciate that pain is a useful guide to shaping future action. It does not cause right behavior, but makes one pause from the experience, therefore shaping future action.
Here are my strategies for bouncing back from failure, learned from my own experiences:
I have taken responsibility for my mistakes, though sometimes too quickly. I have often put my hand up immediately and said “I did it”. However, as I have gotten older, I have come to realize that sometimes doing so too quickly does not allow me to get to root cause. In taking responsibility, I have cried a lot in working through the pain. The Bible talks about godly sorrow being a good thing. I have seen too many people, even those close to me, struggle with handling failure. This is because they are quick to blame someone else or a circumstance, rather than admitting their own fault.
MAKE IT RIGHT
Once you take responsibility, the next step is a genuine apology. Apologize to the person you have wronged, as well as the ones who may have had to suffer due to your action or inaction. Someone recently asked me what happens if the person you have hurt or affected is not around in order for you to make it right. Doing it right away helps, but if that person is not around, write down what you would say to that person and perhaps communicate your thoughts to the next of kin. Releasing yourself from the burden of guilt is important. It is in our nature to act out of self-interest, but it is also in our nature and spirit to be reconciled.
We cannot control how the other person will react to our apology. On occasion, I vividly remember offering an apology, with the people involved not responding well to my plea. The first one was inconsequential, when I delayed returning a book I had borrowed. The lender was irate and at some point I knew I had done enough to make amends, so I moved on. In the second instance with a different person, it was the same. The person was upset and did not accept my apology, in spite of the fact that it was not something I had done directly to him or his family. I am sorry to say I have seen this person lose his family, his home and his career. There is something dangerous about holding people to a higher standard than you are able to live by. The Bible is also very clear about forgiving others so that your own sins will be forgiven by the same measure.
LESSONS LEARNED – ROOT CAUSE
This is an area that I have had the hardest time with. Because I want to make things right, I have sometimes rushed through the process and the uncomfortable activity of taking a closer look. While dwelling on it is certainly not the answer, hurrying through it does not provide adequate time for self reflection. The critical step of self-reflection helps me to understand why something happened and how I can prevent it from happening again.
Having worked in manufacturing, there are some world-class methods that when adapted, can serve us well in our personal lives in getting to root cause. The “5 Whys” (asking why five times) and the Fish Bone Diagram are two popular methods that can be utilized with some modifications. Writing it down also helps, but takes discipline. It may seem easier to brush mistakes under the rug and move on, though in the long run, it is not the best approach.
It is important to get to this stage as quickly as possible, especially if you have been able to get to the root cause. As noted earlier, there are people who may not be willing to accept an apology, or the situation may not be reversible. Having done your part to make it right, move on. You owe it to yourself and God, who created you. Don’t keep looking back and don’t let others take you back either. You will have to be polite but be firm.
So how do I do it? Take responsibility immediately, make it right with the person affected, get to root cause by taking time for self reflection and learning and then move on. That is how I do it.
Think about that cat that lands on its feet!!!