Why you need to learn failing if you want to succeed

Have you beaned in a situation where everything looks hopeless? You are at the end of your powers, you need a rest, or maybe you think so, you are ready to quit. Sounds familiar? If yeas,  then don\t worry, you are not alone in this. Most of the leaders you admire today have gone your path, just before achieving great success. I have learned that situation the hard way, by working on an important project for a multinational company, several years ago.

The short story is I was responsible for a talent development project within the structure of an international company. We have tried several times to reorganize the program schedule, to ensure that participants are more engaged with the schedule and we can get better results within a shorter deadline. We had everything that we needed. I was a country responsible for the project and all eyes were pointing to me. After a long day spent with senior leaders from the country operations units of the company I got out exhausted, understanding that after more than 9 months hard work and more than 60 corrections I was still on level zero, according to the feedback that was collected. I was so disappointed and thoughts about quitting the project were so strong in my head that  I was ready to go to the HR Director next day and ask for not only leaving the project but also the company.

I stayed late in the office, thinking about different scenarios how am I going to explain my decision and how will this decision look like in the eyes of the people who were given me their trust and support during the last 9 months.  Then, at about 9:00 PM I was ready to go home, my decision to conduct the conversation and deposit my resignation letter was strong enough(or at least I thought so). I shut down the lights on the floor I was working and got to the elevator. On the parking area, I was standing alone in front of the company car I was driving and thought how from tomorrow I will have another month suffering and being decreased because of my failure.

There on this parking next to me stand one of the long-time working managers in the company. He has dedicated almost 20 years of his life to  the company  and was at the same moment responsible for starting new business unit, responsible to  sell  product category  that was never sold from the company, a category  that insisted him to  drop  all  the knowledge and techniques he has learned for the time with the company  and start  from scratch,  building a completely  new unit,  with  different rules,  sales schemes, working schedule, etc.

We chatted for a minute or two, I asked him how was the project going and wished him a good night. Then he stopped me and said: Look  I see in your eyes that you are going through a tuff period. But don’t even think to quit. From what I saw today on your presentation your just around the corner, sitting next to the decision that will make you finish your project and I believe that it will be a huge success.

Then he asked me: Do you know how many times I have failed with this project? And before I could even say something he shoots the answer 32 times, before my strategy for the first phase was approved from the C level team. 

I was shocked. I have never expected that a successful project leader has so many failings In his work. Then he continued: “If you want to achieve something great, you better learn to not quit every time you face a difficulty. The things that make us successful  are those who  are making us fail and learn from those failings.”

I drove home and thought about that almost the whole night, but in the morning I was ready to try again. I  threw away the resignation letter I wrote last night and came back to the office. Two months after that I have finished my project with positive feedback of 89% and a year later this same project was implemented as a corporate development program.

What I learned helped not only me but also people who were asking me for help after my success.  A year after I have finished the project I wrote a short list of rules that helped me in thought times and adapted my behavior to these rules. That list is still my agenda when I work on a project or a complex task. Here are the basic rules I have included:

Every  project must follow a strict plan
If you don’t have a clear plan on what needs to be achieved and when must this happen than you better don’t start. A plan can not only help you bring structure in your work, but also win your accountability from others.

Get ideas and practices from sources different than the industry  you  work in
Ideas and insights come from different sides. If you only count on information that has been confirmed for the industry or area you work in, then you count for success on successful models from the past. If you want to move fast you need to adapt models that are working now, no matter if they come from your industry or area of expertise or not.

Analyze ideas, not in line with  current rules and approved models, but while stretching them
An often-made mistake is that people take an idea or a model and try to adapt it to the current company structure. If you want to move forward or change the current situation you need to stretch the situation. To make it expand to new parameters. If you can’t achieve that then your work is not more than just an operational everyday task.

Accept critical feedback not as a failure,  but as an opportunity  to learn what to improve
The most common reaction of everyone, when receiving critical feedback is a defense. People don’t like to be criticized. The critical and constructive feedbacks are only degrees of one and the same thing. They come in your life to stretch you think different. To get most of them to look at the feedback given from a positive perspective. Analyze it by using questions to help you what in the results you have delivered differs from others expectations and understandings for success.    

Always search for an opinion from people who are not in your area.
People who don’t know what limitations in the area you work in existing are a pure source of possible solutions and working ideas. They don’t have defense mechanisms telling them to stop here,  this is not acceptable. That Is why these people are the ones who can help you best when trying to boost results to a new level.

When you  see that tasks change, negotiate new deadlines
You have to deliver an end result within the deadline, but meeting after meeting new tasks or rules are added to the list and the deadline stays the same. This is an often-made mistake by inexperienced professionals. When that happens you add more stress, anxiety, and insecurity to your days. Don’t want to have them in your life, then start re-negotiating deadlines to tsk and projects when you have to add new steps, tasks or even milestones. Being afraid to do that harms not only your comfort but also business results. 

Communicate your level of control and insist on a larger one if you need it to finish your work.
Many senior leaders are often surprised when they receive apologies caused by not having enough power and authority to finish a certain task or project. If you get a project to be sure that you will also get the power tools to manage it for success. That means to negotiate the levels of freedom, independence, the authority you will get in the process and how this ill be communicated to others as support from the senior leadership team.

Be prepared to  negotiate at least 2 different scenarios if you  don’t get support
I don’t say that you will have to become aggressive, but if you hear no in a particular phase of a project or complex task, you must build and present two different scenarios. The first one is easy to build because it explains how will you achieve all the targeted results when being fully supported by the senior leadership team and the project or task sponsor. The second scenario must include the degree of completion of the project or task if you get only partial or no support, needed to ensure success. If you still don’t get the support and accountability you need, then assume that the task or project has changed to the limits that your current state allows.

People can take different things from the points above, but if you must remember a short summary let it be that In every situation, task or project there are moments of failure and moments of success. You cannot pass the failures and stick only to the wins, but being able to learn from failings and implement those learnings into actions can make you more successful in others eyes and ensure you better opportunities for growth and development.


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