As lovely as it would be to have a smooth, easy path to success as a leader, failure is an inevitable part of the process. The stories of some of the great leaders of all time are filled with more failures than success. Take Abraham Lincoln, for example; he was defeated or rejected from public office seven times before ever being elected as the President of the United States at age 51. A combination of his determination and the ability to learn from earlier failures was key to his eventual success as a leader.
Henry Ford famously said, "failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently." Failure isn't final, failure is feedback.
Regardless of how long you have been leading, failure is going to happen. However, if you use failure as feedback, you create an opportunity to learn and make improvements for the future. Here are a few of the guaranteed failures all leaders will make at some point in their journey.
1. Waiting Too Long to Change
Most leaders tend to get comfortable with their current systems and practices, especially if they have brought good results in the past.
Unfortunately, this can leave your team or company less equipped to adapt to an ever-changing marketplace. As Charles Koch said on the Tim Ferriss Podcast, "Too many leaders of companies are short-term oriented versus long-term oriented." Koch is right; leaders should always be looking long-term especially in the area of innovation.
During a recent email exchange on innovation, Imran Tariq, CEO of Webmetrix Group, wrote to me, "Business leaders need to develop an agile mindset, especially in the digital age. Being slow to change can be costly, but failing to change at all will prove fatal."
Tariq has raised more than $400 million to acquire and scale seven-figure companies, so his quick note hit home for me on a personal level, as I've struggled with the building of my own leadership development company. Yes, older methods of creating revenue and implementing new learning solutions still work, but the signs of change are written on the wall. It's no different in your industry or with your team -- it just comes down to how open you are to change.
2. Handling a Situation with a Team Member Poorly
It doesn't matter how long you have been leading a team; at some point, you will lay in bed at night wishing you had handled a situation with a team member differently. It could be the words you chose to use, the emotions you showed in a particular moment, or the lack of empathy.
No leader is perfect, and mistakes are just part of the job. It's how you learn from those mistakes is what will separate you from others. Get in the habit of writing down the mistakes you make in particular situations and reviewing them every month. Look for opportunities to apply those lessons in future interactions with team members.
3. Bad Hires
Even if you have an intensive process in place for vetting potential hires, you never know if someone will live up to expectations until they have actually joined your team. No matter how good of a judge, you may think you are, every business leader will make a bad hire at some point.
Even when hiring for low-level positions, a single bad hire can prove extremely costly -- in my company LearnLoft's research; we estimate the cost to be between $100k - $115k per leader.
The consequences aren't strictly financial. They take a toll on you emotionally. I have made multiple bad hires in my day leading a company, and it's hard not to take it personally. You not only are putting the person you have hired in a bad position, but it's also difficult for other members of your team to pick up the slack of team members who leave.
As painful as a bad hire can be, this can present a valuable learning experience that helps you hire better in the future. Just keep in mind this quote from Simon Sinek, which has become my guide: "You don't hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills."
Yes, failure can be frustrating. It can lead to significant financial losses, and possibly even the end of a current business endeavor. However, remember, failure isn't final. Failure is feedback.