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How Did You Fail This Week?


Remember as a youngster, sitting at the dinner table, being asked, “What did you learn today?” That question was often asked by a parent to help you understand to make changes or look at something differently, you usually must learn something.


During my keynotes, training classes, and coaching sessions, I often like to ask the same question, but phrased differently. I ask, as a leader, how did you fail this week? My goal is to help others understand that failure can also be defined as not trying instead of focusing on the outcome.


If you are not failing, then you are not learning. Your most successful leaders understand that you had better get used to failing and you better be good at learning from it.


I am currently working with a leader who has a hard time trusting her team. Weekly, we have discussed all the barriers she has created to avoid getting work and decisions done through others. At the end of a recent coaching session, I encouraged her to delegate a task and be prepared to discuss reactions/responses the next time we got together.


At the onset of our next virtual coaching session, I asked, “How did you fail this week?” She looked at me as though I had a third eye on my forehead and cautiously replied, “I don’t think I did fail this week.” I then proceeded to ask her if she delegated a task to a team member. She said, “I did not have a chance to delegate because two of my team members/family members tested positive for Covid; thus, we are so busy and short-staffed.” I then asked if she had an open mind. Predictably, she nodded in agreement. I explained, “You have five people on your team, right?” She replied, “Yes.” I then asked, “You could not find time to delegate a task to the remaining team members?” She quickly replied, “You don’t understand.” I smiled and politely interrupted her and said, “See, you did fail this week! You failed to grow and develop as a leader, and you failed to help grow and develop others who report to you. You see, when you make a choice not to delegate or empower, you are denying yourself and your team members an opportunity to grow and develop.” She replied, “I never quite thought of failure that way.” In other words, by failing to try something different – you failed.


I then asked about a task she could have moved down to one of her team members. She politely interrupted me and said, “John, you know the old saying, if you want something done right, do it yourself.” I smiled and said, “Yes. But what you are really saying is you don’t trust the people around you to accomplish important tasks and you are the only one who can perform the task well.” I continued, “If indeed, you were the only one in the bunch who can execute a certain job or task correctly, ask yourself, why did I hire these folks in the first place? And if you didn’t hire them, why are you continuing to pay their salaries if they are not capable? What is it about this job/task or assignment that makes it so important you cannot delegate? What is it about this job/task or assignment that reduces your team members to not being good enough to do it?”


She responded by asking a question versus answering the question. Subconsciously, I thought if politicians can avoid answering a question by simply asking a question, I can extend her the same courtesy. She then asked me to tell her one time when I failed as a leader. I simply said, “At one time, I was the leader who failed to consistently delegate and empower my staff. I came up with every reason under the sun not to do it. Eventually, I lost people on my team who left the company because I did not play a role in helping them grow and develop. So, essentially, I was so good at failing to delegate that I became really good at losing people on my team who left to find a leader/company who would help them fulfill a basic workplace need we all have - the need to self-actualize.”


So, what did you learn today? How have you failed today? Did you fail to develop others? Did you fail to confront others who were not doing what you asked? Did you fail at accepting criticism? Did you fail at finding the time to pay a team member a compliment? Did you fail to reflect on how you could have improved how you handled a situation? You see, failure can also be defined as not trying versus focusing on the outcome. Leaders, Are MADE, Not Born.


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