It’s easy to assume that successful leaders and famous innovators owe their success to consistently making the right choices and avoiding failure. However, in reality many famous success stories have had a firm grounding in failure; Henry Ford’s first two companies failed before he finally built his automobile empire and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by all twelve of the publishing companies J. K. Rowling initially sent it to.

Clearly failure is no barrier to eventual success, and in fact many influential leaders believe that dealing positively with setbacks is in fact crucial to personal and professional advancement.

In this article for Forbes, Glenn Loplis makes the important point that failure has a tendency to create new opportunities, and if we can reframe our attitude to acknowledge and embrace failure, these opportunities are ours for the taking. Failure can create the opportunity to try again, reflecting and taking into account what went wrong the first time.

Alternatively, it can create the opportunity to go in a completely new direction, for example with a new venture or change of role. With the right attitude, disappointments and setbacks always offer us a golden chance to learn something valuable about ourselves or our organisation.

Dealing successfully with failure

So how can failure be used as a tool to success? It is important to reflect carefully and fully on what went wrong, despite our natural impulse to brush off disappointment and avoid thinking about times when we have fallen short of our own expectations. As Loplis notes, ‘…once you understand why you failed you may realise that you weren’t that far away from success.’

When reflecting on failure it is important to be realistic, but also positive. Consider what opportunities have opened up as a result – what changes need to be made? What have you learned about yourself? What new skills can you acquire to help face similar challenges in the future? 

As well as reflecting alone, it is important to reach out to others. This can be very daunting as we battle with feelings of shame and defensiveness but the rewards can be significant. Feedback from clients, colleagues and mentors is invaluable, offering important insights into what went wrong and how to fix it. Open communication and a positive attitude helps teams to enact the changes needed to achieve success.

A positive approach to failure not only helps you to bounce back effectively from setbacks, it can also make you a better leader as you let go of the fear of things going wrong and focus on effective communication and seize challenges and opportunities as they arise, forging your own pathway to personal and professional success.

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