I’m not a businessman but I find Harvard Business Review to be the most interesting, relevant and research-oriented publication that I read on a regular basis. The April 2011 issue, for example, is devoted to “Failure: How to understand it, learn from it, and recover from it.” Most articles have corporate implications but personal, career and coaching applications pervade the writers’ conclusions as well.
“Inappropriate responses to failure and to negative feedback can derail your career,” states an article on handling failure. “When a failure has occurred, don’t respond impulsively. It’s not always possible to right a wrong, but it’s almost always possible to make things worse.” Using data from “several hundred thousand managers from every industry sector,” the authors identify three broad categories of dysfunctional reactions to failure.
- Blaming others involves finding fault, failure to admit any responsibility, and refusing to learn from feedback or constructive criticism.
- Denying blame is marked by an unwillingness to admit that failure has occurred or a denial that oneself or one’s team was involved in any way. There is no openness to discussing or learning from what others see as failure.
- Blaming oneself involves excessive self-criticism and harsh judgment that sometimes leads to seeing failures as bigger than they are or to “analysis paralysis” where self-blamers refuse to learn, forgive themselves, and move on.
Handling failure and blame in the right way is a key to personal growth and greater career success. How is this done?
- Cultivate self-awareness. How do you handle failure or blame? What have you learned from past failure? How can you respond differently in the future?
- In your team or in yourself, build an attitude where periodic failure is expected, where blame is de-emphasized and where learning from failure is valued.
- Learn how others respond to failure or blame and learn to approach people with this awareness in mind.
- Embrace new strategies. Listen to how others react. Think before you respond. Search for lessons in each failure situation.
- Remember that analyzing failures and carefully analyzing successes can both help prevent further failure in the future.
What have you learned from failure? Please share your story.