Sunday, 3 June 2012

An Enlightend Perspective on 'Failure'

Inspiratonal Leadership requires patience. No organization can maintain the status quo.  Change is inevitable; and with change you introduce the risk of failure.  Yet failure can be an acceptable outcome so long as it is 'controlled'. 
It sounds contradictory that you can gain while losing.  But it is true that our best lessons are learned in adversity.  Therefore an inspirational leader will always be encouraging others to take risks that have the potential to end in failure;  even approving initiatives with which the leader is not in full agreement. 
The key to this principle is that failure can never be such that it is catastrophic or fatal to the life of the enterprise. And equally important, that which is learned must be of greater value that that which has been lost.
This is why an effective leader has a long term focus.  In the long term context, failures take on a proper perspective.  The loss of $1000 may seem important if the monthly target was $10000. But if the annual objective is $120,000, then $1000 is much less significant and the risk is seen in it's context.
Having the resolve to accept failure as a natural part of progression is a liberating attribute for everyone involved.
First it allows for a breadth of creative thought that would otherwise be unlikely. How often are we looking for ways to re-invent a solution or to develop a new and innovative approach to an issue?  As long as failure is viewed in a negative way, reverting to the ‘tried and true’ will always carry more weight than it should. This is not to suggest or imply that failure is, in some way, the objective or to condone it as a goal. You can never make a silk purse from a sow's ear.

But consider these thoughts...
Thomas Edison is rightly regarded as one of the greatest inventors of the 20th century.  Yet failure was his constant companion to which he said: “…I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward..."
Margaret Atwood is one of Canada’s most important novelists.  About failure she had this to say: “…A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason…”


J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books was quoted at her 2008 Harvard University Commencement address: “…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..." It


None of these was disuaded by their failures; frustrated and occasionally discouraged to be sure.  But all used failure as a platform for future success.
For the leader, there is a different liberation.  Rather than hand hold the team through to the conclusion, there is an expectation of maturity and improved risk taking that may result in even greater efficiencies in the attainment of the goal.  Fostering this ‘outside the box’ thinking often opens the door to better processes and best practices are actually improved.  How much more productive will your team members become knowing that they have your unqualified support and are daily being encouraged to reach their full potential?  Is this not the same level of trust and support you crave and expect from your superior? 
Leaders today do well to remember that for both themselves and their staff.
Creating a culture and a climate that fosters this attitude is one of the leader’s most important contributions to the organization.  Sometimes it requires the individual to be brave and courageous.  But then, isn’t that our reasonable expectation?

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