Failing Forward: 3 Strategies to Help Young Leaders Handle Failure

failing forward
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Failing Forward: 3 Strategies to Help Young Leaders Handle Failure

“Commitment makes you capable of failing forward until you reach your goals. Cutting corners is really a sign of impatience and poor self-discipline.”― John C. Maxwell

Failure is a prerequisite to invention. IBM’s Thomas Watson, Sr., once said, “The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.” Failure is inevitable, and how we take up challenges and use them to our advantage is what matters. The thing about failure is that highly successful people are the ones who have failed the most.

In my New Directions: Look Beyond Failure, I presented about eight entrepreneurs who were able to lose sight of their failures and focused on their goals. Jim Owens, former CEO of Caterpillar Inc., said that our most important lessons as leaders come from our toughest losses. Failures provide us with new ways of thinking and they equally give us new insights into how we can improve as leaders.

John Danner and Mark Coopersmith, in their book “The Other F Word” writes that failure is not only nothing to be feared, it’s actually a bankable asset.

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John Danner explains, “Some people look at failure as an isolated event or a potential management process. We see failure itself as a strategic resource, on a par with the other resources businesses have available to them. Failure is the one resource everyone creates every day. When you look at it that way you suddenly begin to see its potential for telling you what you don’t know and how to position your next cycle of decisions. It also helps you avoid getting caught up in your own belief system at the expense of reality.”

As Donald Thompson said; “The key to success is how quickly we convert failure into education and, ultimately, into lasting changes in behavior.” Here are three strategies for failing forward:


Never forget what you are. You are not defined by your position. You have been given gifts that have allowed you to be in the position you are in, but that is not the end of who you are created to be. You are certainly not the first to fail and will not be the last. Trust that you can do better going forward. They key is to maintain a good self-esteem. Our attitude towards failure is what sets us apart as leaders. Believe in yourself; believe in what you are; trust your gut instinct; handle what comes your way with confidence not only for the sake of your team, but for you as well.

Fix your mistakes 

When we do experience difficulties in life, it is okay to get down on ourselves. It is okay to get upset and disappointed. Our goal however is to not stay down. It is not just about recognizing your mistakes. Owning up to a mistake is one thing, fixing the mistake(s) is another. Proffer your own solutions that will get the mistake out of your way. Learn from them and move forward.

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Failure is a product of your perspective. What one person considers a crushing defeat, another sees as a minor setback. The beauty is that you can change how you see failure so that you can use it to better yourself. The idea is failing forward. We fail forward by learning from our setbacks and making the necessary adjustments until we succeed. Every change we make, every person we meet, and every bit of information we absorb is coming together so we can create a different outcome.

We can’t stop obstacles from appearing in life, but we can choose how to handle them. They may block our vision temporarily, but with little perseverance, determination and grace, we can discover opportunities that have always been waiting for us on the other side. As we get more efficient with this process, we enable ourselves to see the positive side in even the toughest of situations.

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