“I have discovered that my best teachers were my mistakes, and instead of covering a mistake with a list of excuses, I actually unwrap the mistake and I look at it and approach it, and I see why … it’s my fault, and that’s how I’m going to learn. So, I love mistakes.”
This is a guest post by Robert L. Dilenschneider, author of The Critical First Years of Your Professional Life.
How can you tap into the power of a setback — and make it work for you?
I have nine recommendations.
1. If you’re shocked by the setback, ask yourself why.
In Ambition: How We Manage Success and Failure Throughout Our Lives, Gilbert Brim observes that “sometimes we don’t know we are losing until the very end.” And that’s not entirely our fault. In a nation of optimists, there’s reluctance to deliver bad news. It’s the courageous supervisor — and the equally courageous colleague — who will even hint that there are major problems. Oh, sure, there are signals: Your work comes back from the new powers-that-be with plenty of red pencil, and something in your gut says the new regime and you aren’t on the same wave-length. But it’s not unusual for the brass not to spell out that there’s a problem. When it comes to bad news, your colleagues are usually equally evasive. Then one day, seemingly out of the blue, someone in command says, “This just isn’t working out.”
You can avoid the shock, and perhaps even prevent the setback from happening, if you develop the ability and the willingness to read the subtext beneath the surface. It’s best to consider everything in the workplace as symbolic. If you’re not invited to a meeting, ask yourself what that means. If you don’t receive a raise, ask what that could represent. If the bosses are consistently impatient with you and act as if you really get under their skin, ask yourself or a trusted colleague what might be going on.
I recently returned from a leadership conference with my newly elected student leaders. We bonded and created fun memories. We even made up a few new words that will stick with us throughout the next year. The conference and journey together gave us all increased momentum as we anticipated what we wanted to accomplish in the near future.
Each new student leader comes to the table with hopes and dreams and ideas. We all have some sense of what we want our year in student leadership to look like.
This is called vision. It’s the ability to see in our mind what we want to happen in reality. It is a preferred future that doesn’t exist yet…but it could.
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”
- Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) 1st Prime Minister Of India
I want to encourage you to think of the possibilities that next year holds. Use your imagination. Identify your options. Stretch your assumptions.
If you are in a student leadership position (or any leadership position for that matter) you need to have a clear and concise vision of what you want to accomplish. Leadership requires direction. Direction requires a destination. Vision is what answers the question everyone on your team will ask at one point or another: Where are we going?
In his groundbreaking book, The Road Less Traveled, Dr. Scott Peck offers in the opening sentence, what he later identifies as “the greatest truth”:
Life is difficult.
He goes on to say, “Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
It doesn’t matter that life is difficult?! If that’s true, then what does matter?
Time and again I find that what matters is how we respond to the difficulties. It makes a huge difference in the way we see our problems and the way we solve our problems.
This is what makes leadership so powerful and necessary. Problems are a leader’s job security. If there weren’t any problems — if everything was easy — then we wouldn’t need or require leaders along the way.
It’s that time of year when we get to hear the campaign speeches from our candidates for student leadership positions. Beyond their ability to give a good speech, they each share their hopes and dreams for next year. They lay out their plan to make it “the best year ever.”
They are sharing their vision for the future.
A distinguished philosopher once wrote that the greatest force for the advancement of the human species is “a great hope held in common.” He went on to say that “everybody knows, without troubling to weigh the reason or importance of a fact seemingly so commonplace, that nothing is more impossible than to inhibit the growth of an idea” (Teilhard de Chardin).
The right vision for the future of an organization is such an idea. It moves people to action, and because of their action, the organization evolves and makes progress. Since an organization must move forward, or, like a bicycle, it will fall over, the role of vision in driving the organization forward is indispensable. The vision’s power lies in its ability to grab the attention of those both inside and outside the organization and to focus that attention on a common dream – a sense of direction that both makes sense and provides direction.
When you lay your head on your pillow at night, you drift off to sleep with a sense of fatigue. But that fatigue can be caused by a couple of different things.
1. You’re tired and frustrated from spinning your wheels all day but not having much to show for it.
2. You’re tired and fulfilled from putting your energy into activities that moved you forward in life.
I love it when I can look back on my day and feel a sense of satisfaction. When I realize I took control of my day instead of allowing my day to control me.
Here are five different areas that leave me feeling fulfilled instead of frustrated. Putting your energy into these areas will increase the likelihood that you’re investing your time and not just wasting it.
1. Work Toward A Goal
There are two kinds of people: those who say “I wish” and those who say “I will.” They’re separated by their willingness to DO something. You can be busy all day and not really accomplish anything. That’s because the overused and all-too-familiar cliche’ is true: aim for nothing and you’ll hit it every time.
Action Step: Write down your top three goals? If you can’t name them you can’t achieve them.
The following is an excerpt from the book, The Way of the Seal: Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed, by Mark Divine with Allyson Edelhertz Machate.
Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
-Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister (1874-1965)
I believe the world is chaotic and destiny favors the prepared. Unfortunately, sometimes chaos just refuses the harness, no matter how well you bulletproof your mission and how committed you are to finding a way.
Moving forward despite chaotic conditions — and sometimes because of them — is inherently risky, and since we don’t shy from risk in the Way of the SEAL, you will inevitably experience failure, probably more often than you succeed, actually. The good news is that, culturally, failure is not as shameful as it once might have been — it’s become almost commonplace for an individual to lose his job, to see her business go belly-up, or to file for bankruptcy (either in business or personally).
In today’s fast-paced world, new technologies change industries overnight. With the business, social, and political landscapes shifting like quicksand, “failing forward fast” is more important now than ever.
In Part One of this article I explained why it was important to develop a philosophy around the ways we approach, handle, and learn from failure. In this second part, I will offer six questions to aid in the process of developing our own philosophy of failure.
I wish we talked about failure more than we do in student leadership development circles. Perhaps it’s because of the tragic tales that emerge from students having to step down from leadership positions because of some type of moral failure or fatal flaw.
That’s not the kind of failure I’m addressing here. I’m not talking about those deep, dark secrets or sins that disqualify someone from leadership.
I’m thinking about the time when Bobby forgot to bring the grill to the cookout. Or the time Susie didn’t communicate with parents that the retreat included skydiving. It’s the mistakes and failures that come from a lack of experience. Some of it can be avoided. Some of it we have to learn from. That’s why I recommend we create a philosophy of failure in our student leadership development process.
Here are six questions that we need to ask ourselves before we encounter that inevitable mistakes and failures that will occur throughout the student leadership year.
1. Are you willing to let your student leaders fail/make mistakes?
I don’t wish for failure, but I don’t hide from it either. The simple fact is they’re “student” leaders. This means they’re learning. They’re going to try some things that will probably be less than perfect (great, average, poor, disaster). They learn from both success and failure. But the lessons learned from failure/mistakes are remembered longer.