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Why Failure is an Opportunity

I have multiple conversations a day that make me step back and think, it could be about product, about leadership, about the wider goal of what we do at LearnDash, and where we’re going. 

Sometimes things don’t always go to plan, whether that’s a release that doesn’t go as smoothly as we wanted, or maybe a new update gets delayed due to last minute bugs. 

As a leader it’s my job to make sure the team understands it’s both part of the process and that it’s also an opportunity to learn. 

Because even if you put in every ounce of effort you have to give, think everything has been done perfect, dotted every I and crossed every T, what you’re doing won’t always go to plan. 

And you know what? That’s totally fine, after all we’re humans, not robots, we aren’t programmed to be perfect, we’re programmed to learn, embrace what we learn and apply it the next time we can. 

Your Team is Human

As a leader it’s important to remember that your team is human, you may be focused on shipping a product, launching a new feature, closing a killer partnership deal, and are desperate for everything to go perfect. 

Chances are? There’s going to be some hiccups on the road to the goal. Your team might feel disappointed, down with themselves, or blame themselves for what happened. 

The key here is team. A product is the result of a team’s effort. It’s not an individual. But what can you do to make your team feel more comfortable with failure?

Making Your Team Comfortable With Failure

I once worked somewhere where every little mistake was directly brought up by team leaders in front of other staff members on huge team calls. It made for a culture of fear, a culture of feeling like you were being told off. 

There are better ways to address failures and turn them into opportunities without making your team feel like a failure. 

1: Learn From Senior Team Members

One of the best ways to help your team learn from mistakes is to open up the problem you’re facing to team members in either the wider company or directly within your own team, to have juniors learn from seniors and have juniors show seniors new tricks. 

2: Juniors Shouldn’t be Ignored

Just because you have a team member in a junior role they should be treated the same as your senior team members and given the same opportunities to perform. 

Many team leaders think that juniors are a liability. I believe strongly that a junior can show the rest of the team new ways of doing things by bringing new eyes to the problem. 

3: Private Encouraging Conversations 

Calling someone out in Slack or a team meeting is an asshole move. As a leader you should always know better, any individual issue can be assessed at a 1:1 to with your direct report but not from a “You did this wrong”. 

Come from the other angle “Hey, so this could have been done this way and there’s some great courses which we’ve purchased for you to help expand your skill set, if you need any assistance we also have a mentor program and would love to connect you with someone to shadow”. 

See the difference is assuming someone knows something and giving the person the tools to improve their skill set with no direct blame. Turning that failure into opportunity, with no assigned blame and a team member that feels even more valued thanks to the support. 

4: Retrospectives Without Blame 

Something went wrong? Creating a retrospective document about what went well, what could have been done better and providing resources for learning is the perfect way to help empower your team without directly saying “we did bad”. 

Retrospectives are an important aspect of leadership and help you as the leader take a step back and see what you can do better yourself.

Not all, but some leaders can have the self fallacy of believing “I’m a leader, I must be perfect”. 

If you always think someone else is to blame, I can confidently say that you are very likely the problem. 

Leaders even more than their team should always be learning, always improving and holding themselves accountable for the team as a whole. 

A strong leader takes the fall for the team, rather than the team taking the fall for bad leadership. 

5: Ask for Help

No one can know everything, unless maybe you’re that new fancy Google A.I. But assuming Google’s new A.I isn’t reading this article let’s go with the assumption you don’t know everything. 

Asking for help from others is a great way to turn any failure into an opportunity, especially from other leaders. 

Take for instance at StellarWP, Nexcess and Liquid Web, we’re lucky enough to have a fantastic team of leaders, all with different skill-sets, insights, and experience. 

If as a leader you’re struggling with something, ask your colleagues! 

Wrapping Up

At the end of the day, the only true failure is one where you don’t take the opportunity to learn and improve in the future. 

Nearly every failure, every door closed, is always a chance, an opportunity to grow, as a person, as a leader, as a worker, as a colleague, as a business. 

So next time you fail (and you will fail). Take a step back and ask yourself, what can I (what can we) do better next time?

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