Do you learn more from success or failure?
Think of a recent example of success in your experience, and an example of failure in your experiences. Then consider the following formulas:
Learning from success
Our accomplishments certainly define us; look at any profile on LinkedIn or your net profits from last year. And there is plenty of support for successful leaders, in western cultures, that value heroic leadership. Those examples range from Jeff Bezos to Mark Zuckerberg to the popularized leaders in this month’s Forbes or Inc. magazines. That focus on heroic leadership may reflect hierarchical beliefs such as “the boss is the super-leader” or our team is “too big/smart to fail.” Heroic leaders exist in most cultures, as described by Campbell (1988). However, excessive success can lead to hubris. Success can endanger a leader, especially if they lose the ability to consider multiple perspectives. I have witnessed examples from previous executive coaching, management consulting, and leadership training clients who have lost their focus on a corporate vision. Successful leaders often need external coaches to speak truth to power.
Learning from failure
Failures also define a leader’s character. We recall our failures from 8th grade and from last month. Some leaders post a list of failures in the hallway as a public reminder. Did you know that we recall failures longer than we recall successes, and that the memories of those failures are located in the oldest part of our brain where we process emotions? Last week I participated in a fascinating webinar on “Coaching the post-heroic leader,” led by Jeff Hull at Columbia University. That webinar focused on recent studies describing adaptive leaders who are comfortable working in a fluid, networked, virtual world that supports failure. The lean startup movement described by Reis (2011) and the disruption models (Christianson, 2011) encourage failing fast, and failing often in order to gain a competitive advantage. From a systems thinking perspective (Senge, 2006), failure can provide an external stimulation that helps leaders stay true to their values and character. Leaders who are failing at one behavior may need external coaches to teach them additional tactics and strategies.
Your Consultant’s Conclusions:
My tentative conclusion is that leaders are in greater danger from success, than from failure. But my conclusion is less important than yours.
Ask yourself these leadership coaching questions:
- What have I learned in the past month?
- How do I know that I have learned that?
- What do I need to learn in the next 6 months?
Then call me at 615-212-3555 or schedule a complimentary leadership coaching session to discuss how you learn best. As your leadership coach, I strive to provide you with the tools to create an impact, rally optimistic coworkers and comrades, as well as maximize group and individual productivity and creation.
What are you waiting for?
Download this list of services and investment levels now:
Campbell, J. (1988). The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday.
Christensen, C.M. (2011). The innovator’s dilemma; The revolutionary book that will change the way you do business. New York: Harper Business.
Reis, E. (2011). The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. New York: Crown Business.
Senge, P. M. (2006). The Fifth Discipline: the Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Random House/Currency.