From Failure to Leadership: Lessons for Executive Growth and Development

From Failure to Leadership: Lessons for Executive Growth and Development was originally published on uConnect External Content.

Today, Henry Ford is synonymous with American innovation and progress.

But while he was developing his first automobile, his investors decided he was too careful – and they backed out of their agreement. 

The second time he started a company, he again couldn’t find financial backing. 

Rather than letting these failures hold him back, Ford used them to develop his manufacturing processes and develop his business acumen. These innovations, in turn, made him more successful than he otherwise would have been if he hadn’t failed. 

Of course, nobody wants to fail. But if you never put yourself in a position where you could fail, then you might not be the lessons for executive growth and development that you could be. 

What is so important about failing? 


📊 Failure helps you re-assess what really matters.

If you don’t succeed at something, you’re often forced to re-assess if you want to keep trying.

In other words, you’ll decide how much something matters to you the harder you have to work at it. 

Fairygodboss’ Teneshia Warner shared the example of a successful journalist who re-thought her path after a failure. 

“Sometimes, you learn what your purpose is by learning what your purpose is not. Once during a conversation I had with Soledad O’Brien, American Broadcast Journalist and Executive Producer, she shared how she would have never found her love for journalism and storytelling if she did not drop out of medical school,” Teneshia wrote. 


📊 You’re forever better able to identify issues leading to the same outcome.

We can risk assess, plan, and hypothesize all day long, but until we actually fail, we often can’t figure out the problems that led to our downfall. 

However, once you do fail at something, you’re that much better off avoiding similar mistakes in the future. 

“You can learn a great deal from your biggest mistakes. Once you’ve had a chance to look back and reflect on what went wrong, you’ll have a powerful mental resource base. You’ll be able to easily identify similar situations later… Since failure can leave a powerful impression, you’ll be more positive about what not to do and what you can do better,” said Stephanie Wells of Thrive Global.


📊 You’re able to move away from perfectionism.

Perfectionism often derives from a need to control every aspect of our lives.

When perfectionism is too deeply rooted, you may not even be willing to try something at which you might fail because you’re too afraid.

“Perfectionism is about an almost obsessive need to have control over every aspect of their life. This need for control comes from a deep-seated shame regarding failure… Because of these feelings and a desire not to ever fail at anything, the perfectionist may actually stop pursuing new experiences or challenges,” said Jeannie Hughes, LIMHP.

However, when perfectionists try and fail, their fear can be diminished. Instead, they recognize that failing isn’t the end of the world – and they can still re-calibrate and keep going. 

For professionals with perfectionistic tendencies, failing may be an opportunity to seek more ambitious and dangerous roads forward – that may lead to increased success or potential failure. 


📊 Failure breeds innovation.

When you study almost any successful person, you’ll see that their paths were riddled with failures.

Without these frustrations, they may have never been forced to come up with innovations that helped them find new ways around these pitfalls. On the other hand, if everything just works for us all the time, we may never see the ways forward that could make us great. 

“Failure can make us realize we need to approach things differently. If one way didn’t work, trying a different, more creative approach might be the answer. There was an exhibit in a design college called ‘Permission to Fail.’ It featured artist’s “failures” and mess-ups, which were all brought together to create a beautiful display of how even failure can creatively be a success,” wrote Alicen Ricard for WWEST.


Failure Teaches You Lessons for Executive Growth and Development


Most people aim to avoid failure at all costs.

But if you only put yourself into situations that are totally safe, you’ll never learn the lessons for executive growth and development that you otherwise might. 

In other words, failure comes with the territory when trying to innovate, like Henry Ford. Others might be afraid to go onto a limb with you, but you’ll never advance as far as you could have if you don’t push yourself out of your comfort zone. 

How can you get yourself into a mentality that failing is good for you? Entrepreneurship writer Elaine Pofeldt says it’s all about getting yourself back into the learning mentality you had in college and grad school – a time when you knew that failing would help you grow. 

“My suggestion is to take a class in something you’ve never tried, whether that’s a foreign language, a musical instrument, or Ashtanga yoga. Giving yourself a chance to be a novice–outside of the high-stakes world of your work environment, where there’s little room for failure and mistakes – can help you get back into learning mode,” she said. 

Something else that makes people afraid of failing is the idea that they’ll have to hide their defeats. However, this isn’t always the case either.

Columbia University’s Eli Joseph describes how describing what you learned from failure can boost your career in his webinar “How to Use Your Failures to Market Yourself.”