Fail before you Lead.

Irrespective about what ideas you have about success, being the victor and about leading yourself and others, the singular fact remains that, unless you fail, you will never be able to lead- neither yourself and nor anyone else! Failure, ironically teaches more than success can ever and this is the essence of this short piece! Join me here as we explore, what makes Failure so intense and educating while success reached without it, just seems to fizzle away unless it has been forged on the robust foundation of failure from where one can rise above! This is the space where learning from failing and failing forward (as someone has said this) matters! So let’s roll!

If you pick leaders across the spectrum of politics, business, community service, the corporate world- one singularity will come back hitting you hard and that is the fact that the most revered and successful ones’ have been the ones’ who have either been spectacular at failing or have kept failing predictably and yet achieving what they had set out for! But aren’t people supposed to be crushed and finished by failure, we have corporations and business go bust and never rise back again, we have examples of political careers wiped away and business vaporized owing to leadership failures- what about that bit? Well, sure enough even the other space exists and this is what makes failure so interesting! Failure rewards only as long as you learn from it or when you learn when enough is enough! You disobey either of the two rational scenario, try stretching your luck a bit too far and you are history in the works and sure enough not for the right reasons! So let’s understand why and when failure gets fatal!

We have heard fables about politicians, who went on and on loosing one election after the another, we have heard about that self-driven, eccentric business boss who went on and on with his rant and obsession to do what he deemed right, we have come across those proverbial managers (damagers) who went on and on to spell check you mail and insist what you say, write and do (something that would even put your family to shame!)- when you eventually look back and analyse what has happened to most of them- well in all probability they have either hit their trim level of incompetence and settled down in their little pond and called it “The Pacific Ocean” or in few cases have managed to have themselves completely erased away- as in physically from the realm of the planet! So you may ask, if failing is going to lead to success, why don’t these scenarios qualify for that? Well, the reason for that is, as I said earlier, one needs to know when to stop and when “enough is enough”! like everything else, failure too gives you a fair chance to bounce back and re-align your life, but failure gets brutal and fatal once you stop learning from it and keep doing the same things again and again expecting different outcomes!

It is only when people begin to embrace failure- from the context of being able to learn, improvise and realign themselves that things begin to change and that change comes from within you! The first things that meaningful failure does to you, is that it will change your context and approach to the things that you are failing at (as long as you are ready to learn and work over it). All great leaders, that the world knows today have been baptized by failure first and it’s only when that baptism has liberated them to seek more clarity, touch gratitude and realize their trim levels in the honesty of it, that they have been able to change to create the success stories that we all get to witness today! So how do few people manage to learn from failures, while most withdraw and stagnate themselves- shelving away all their aspirations by giving themselves the permanent credentials of a certified failure?

People who emerge as Leaders, post failures and setbacks have a few things in common. To begin with they have a clear purpose and they want that to be achieved and are ready to receive the accolades and brickbats on that journey even as they begin to walk it! This mental resilience and conditioning to embrace things as they come, evaluate if they serve the required purpose or not, check if they create value or not and keep going is what makes these people formidable learners, adapters and artists in the way they deal with challenges thrown at them and even as the world gasps in abated breath for the news of their impeding doom, they almost always bounce back and come out as not only a survivor but also as a victor! Importantly people who learn from failures know when enough is enough and are absolutely clear about their trim levels!

Think about this, why do you think that not all great businesses are able to be the same spot – all at number 1? Why are even great businesses trimmed at some levels and numbers in the leader board- even though they are successful & progressive- this is because their leaders and the people who lead and direct have held on to the purpose and clarity of what they do and why they do, what they do and more importantly have resisted all temptations to avoid getting into doing something either what they don’t understand or don’t concur with! The first thing that failure teaches you is the zone that you belong to- you see, whether you are an individual or a collection of individuals (that is what a firm is), as long as you learn from failure what your real competence is and where the trim line for that competence is- you will be great because then you know the top line and you then just have to focus on improving within and that’s really easy once you have the right people to help you with that! Let me explain!

Say you want to build house on a plot that you have, well wise people will assess the context of the plot, know the purpose of the house (the utility aspect) and then decide how to design and build that beautiful structure knowing the limitation of resources at hand (people, technology, skill, competence, time and money).So gauging this, you will probably settle for a state-of-the-art, beautiful, one or two floor building that meets your need within the parameters that you can work in. This is what calibrated success looks like( sure enough you don’t necessarily have to fail first here because you have analysed well to start!). Now, instead of this, if you were to just go on building floor upon floor, not knowing when to stop and why you are building that thing to begin with- well the inevitable will happen- either you will break financially to continue building that never ending structure or the structure will collapse on accord of the sane principles of physics and gravity!

Even as many leaders fail, very few learn from it and even fewer apply those learnings to their today to create a more valuable tomorrow! This is what differentiates between Good and Great Leaders! Good Leaders will help you navigate your today, for that serves their today as well- This is the stuff that you come across successful managers in the corporate world and those content small businesses who are happy earning the same annual amount even if the inflation has changed and cut their profits by half! What great leaders do differently is that they not only apply the learnings of their failure to their work and create awesomeness at work, but they are at the same time, consistently failing forward at something else- experimenting with new ways, processes or even new businesses and even these failures present valuable lessons which go back to create more value to the functioning business to make it better and should the other experiments click- which they will- needless to say you are just witnessing the birth of a conglomerate and this is how business empires are built- by sharing the knowledge of failures across the board and applying those valuable lessons across to create value and control in a more meaningful manner!

On a more human level, failure brings in humility and sanity, it teaches you to embrace and learn from everything around you and also presents you with absolute clarity about what matters, and what doesn’t and makes a real shortlist of valuable resources- people or otherwise! Not all failures are owing to a person or a collective of people running a business at times, it also could be circumstantial and beyond human control, but again in even those scenarios, the ability to learn, analyze and apply those learnings back to the business as the group hits the re-start button is what creates the difference- the difference in terms of chosen trajectory, speed, expanse and the choice of people for the new journey! It is only when the limits of competence, skills and contexts are properly calibrated post a failure and applied to the purpose on hand that magic is created and progress is made on the chosen path!

Final words, as they say, “Failure is never fatal and Success is never final”, that may be true but for that to manifest this frame of being able to consistently learn from failures, embrace them and seek them is what is vital to create the shift from being Good to being Awesome! Failure does’t finish one, it’s the inability to learn from failures and apply those learnings to life and business, is what makes failure dangerously fatalistic!

I leave you here with these thoughts, will be back soon with another one, until then stay safe and stay wise! Ciao for now!