How to Have a Successful Failure, Part Two

This is part two of a two-part series on how your business can not only survive but also thrive after a major setback by embracing failure as an opportunity. Part one discussed successful businessmen who persevered after failures and ultimately became successful. Part two contains specific tips on how you can achieve a successful failure for your business.

We’ve all failed at something. Maybe it was your driver’s test when you were 16. Perhaps you didn’t make that weight loss goal you set for yourself last year. Or maybe you’ve suffered a major setback in your business and are starting to feel like a failure.

You can move on from failure. As Maya Angelou said, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

I’d like to offer a few tips on how to overcome that feeling of failure and perceive it as an opportunity for success.

  1. Accept failure, but view it as temporary.

As motivational speaker and writer Denis Waitley said, “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is a delay, not a defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end.”

So some marketing initiative or new product launch didn’t work out as planned. Perhaps your company has suffered a huge financial setback. Acknowledge that the attempt to meet your goal failed, but vow to move on.

  1. Learn from your previous mistakes.

If possible, determine what went wrong to cause the failure. If it’s not possible for you to uncover the issue internally, consider hiring outside help to find out the cause and help ensure success next time. An outside consultant can also help you determine if you’ve correctly pinpointed the issue. I’ve been hired to help failing companies that thought they knew exactly what the issue is, only for me to determine they were wrong and that the solution they had proposed was doomed to fail.

  1. Set realistic expectations.

It’s great to stretch yourself and set ambitious goals for you and your company. But setting them too high can result in yet another failure and demoralize your employees.

I tell the story in my book, How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me, of working with a company in Florida that bought a company in Minnesota and wanted to move it to Florida and have it operational in three days. Given their resources and logistical considerations, the plan was absolutely impossible.

I worked with them to map out a two-month process for the relocation. The move went smoothly and with a minimum of downtime.

  1. Consider your definition of success.

During the recession a lot of companies had to reconsider what their definition of success is. As I heard it described then, “Survival is the new success.” Sometimes in tough times, just keeping your business afloat is a success. Recognize that and congratulate yourself for it.

We will all fail at something in our life, and yes, that can be disappointing. But it’s how we react to it that makes all the difference. Dale Carnegie said, “Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.”

Take Time to Develop Your Own Leadership Skills

When you’re running a company there are plenty of things to focus on. Sales of your products, marketing strategies, long-term goals just to name a few. You may spend a lot of time and money on training your sales staff. But do you ever take time out to consider your own development?

Some CEOs or business owners get around to themselves last when it comes to improving skills, either due to lack of time or considering it a low priority. But what could be more important? If you’re the head of the show, shouldn’t you keep your own skills sharp?

I recently read an article in INC, “7 Reasons You Can’t Learn Leadership on Your Own,” and two of the reasons in particular struck me.

The first is that observing leadership is not the same as developing leadership. I have found that to be true. There seems to be a prevailing belief that people will just “grow into” being leaders.

The article also pointed out that many board members and investors are not good leaders, although they think they may be.

They also operate with an agenda, which may not include developing your skills as a leader. That would not necessarily work to their benefit as it may interfere with them pushing through those agendas. So you can’t expect your board or your investors to encourage you to develop leadership skills. You’re on your own there.

So how do you do it?

There are courses you can take and plenty of articles available on the Internet. There is no shortage of books on the topic. Here is a list from of leadership books it recommended from 2013. In addition to some new titles, it includes some classics like “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change,” by Stephen R. Covey and even an 80-year-old classic from Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

One of the most effective ways I’ve found to improve my business skills is by sharing ideas, problems and concerns with other CEOs and business leaders. If you can find such a group of leaders, you can learn a lot from each other as a lot of the issues you deal with are similar.

For example, the Vistage Chief Executive Program brings in 16 peers from noncompetitive businesses that serve each other in an advisory capacity. They have monthly problem-solving meetings and personal coaching sessions. They can also attend up to eight workshops a year led by a Vistage expert speaker.

If you don’t want to attend a formal group, form your own informal one from your acquaintances, again in noncompetitive businesses. Arrange to meet weekly for coffee and discuss your leadership challenges.

Just like you don’t neglect developing your muscles at the gym for your health, continue to develop your leadership skills as well by whatever method works for you.