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Monday, 03 September 2007 21:00

Failing Forward Featured

Written by Dr. John C. Maxwell
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You find all of Dr. John C. Maxwell teaching under the menu "Leadership"

What are you afraid of as a leader?  On the top of many people's list is failure.  Is it on your list too?

johnmaxwell2.jpgJ.M. Barrie said, "We are all failures--at least, all the best of us are."  In my 30-plus years of leadership experience, I've come to the conclusion that one of the most valuable but underestimated abilities that leaders can posses is the ability to do what I call "failing forward."  It's more than having a good attitude about your mistakes, and it's a step beyond simply taking risks.  Failing forward is the ability to get back up after you've been knocked down, learn from your mistake, and move
forward in a better direction.

You see, everybody makes mistakes.  But the real difference between average people and achieving people is their PERCEPTION OF and RESPONSE TO failure.  Nothing else has the same kind of impact on people's ability to accomplish their dreams.

What do you dream of accomplishing?  Unfortunately, no matter how gifted or knowledgeable you are, you will make mistakes along the way to your dream.  Failure is the price you must pay on the road to success.  That's just how it works.  But the good news is that the better you are at failing forward, the sooner you can accomplish your dreams.

Before you put away your list of resolutions for the new year, look at the following misconceptions about failure.  Take an honest inventory to determine if your perception of failure is what it should be.  If you share any of these misconceptions, add to your list the resolution to change the way you think about failure.


You've probably heard the saying, "To err is human, to forgive divine."  That was written by Alexander Pope more than 250 years ago.  And he was only paraphrasing a saying that was common 2,000
years ago, during the time of the Romans.  Things today are the same as they were then:  People make mistakes.

Don't buy into the notion that mistakes can somehow be avoided. They can't be.  Accept that you will err because you're human, but don't let that keep you from pursuing your dreams.


Think about your school days.  If you or someone you knew received an F on a test, the tendency was to think that you failed at that moment.  However, that's not the case.  The F shows that the test taker neglected the process leading up to the test and the result was a poor score.  The truth is that you don't receive F's for failing a test, but for failing to prepare for a test.

Failure is just like success - it's a day-to-day process, not someplace you arrive one day.  Failure is not a one time event, it's how you deal with life along the way.  Yes, you will make mistakes, but you can't conclude that you're a failure until you breathe your last breath.  Until then, you're still in the
process, and there is still time to turn things around for the better.


When you forget a meeting, miss a deadline, damage a relationship, or make a poor choice concerning your children, what determines whether that action was a failure?  Is it the size of the problem it creates, the amount of money your company loses, or how much criticism you have to endure?  No.  The truth is that only you are the only person who can label what you do a failure.  Failure is subjective.  Your perception of and response to your mistakes determine whether they are failures.

According to Tulane University business professor Lisa Amos, entrepreneurs fail in an average of 3.8 business ventures before they finally make it.  They aren't deterred by mistakes or adversity because they don't see setbacks as failures.  They recognize that three steps forward and two steps back still
equals one step forward.  Determine to see your mistakes as merely temporary lapses, and start using them as stepping stones to success.


Most people try to avoid failure like the plague.  They're afraid of it.  But it takes adversity to create success.  NBA coach Rick Pitino says, "Failure is good.  It's fertilizer.  Everything I've learned about coaching I've learned from making mistakes."

If you desire to be a high achiever you can't see mistakes as the enemy.  Musicologist Eloise Ristad emphasizes that, "when we give ourselves permission to fail, we at the same time give ourselves
permission to excel."  She's right.  Begin to perceive mistakes as opportunities rather than opponents.


There's an old saying in Texas that goes:  "It doesn't matter how much milk you spill as long as you don't lose your cow."  In other words, mistakes are not irreversible.  The problems come when you see only the "spilled milk" and not the bigger picture.

Tom Peters wisely acknowledged, "If silly things were not done, intelligent things would never happen."  When you make a mistake, keep things in perspective.  Understand that on the heels of
every mistake is a valuable lesson and another opportunity to improve.

Washington Irving once noted, "Great minds have purposes; others have wishes.  Little minds are subdued by misfortunes; but great minds rise above them."  If you tend to focus on the extremes of
mistakes and fixate on particular events in your life, make a resolution this year to gain a new perspective on failure.  See errors and negative experiences as a regular part of life and determine to learn and grow from them.  If you can do that well, you may find that your dreams are much closer than you think.

"This article is used by permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell's free monthly e-newsletter
'Leadership Wired' available at www.INJOY.com."


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