Leaders take risks—and sometimes those risks lead to failure. What do you do then? I know what you would tell your students, but are you taking your own advice?
As with everything in our world failures come in different sizes. There are quiet failures and more public ones. A small quiet failure might be you set up a display of popular fiction from years ago – and no one has looked at it. A more public failure would be you planned a short program for parents during a conference or back-to-school night and only one parent showed up.
It feels awful. If this was one of the first risks you took, no matter the size, you are apt to crawl back into the tried-and-true. Obviously, leadership isn’t for you. Or you have no business playing “large.” You are not at that level of leadership and never will be. Fear of failure stops many from becoming leaders.
If you fall back and believe that story, you are depriving yourself of the benefit of failure. As you tell students, failing is a learning opportunity. No one reaches success without failure. And even those who seem to be highly successful leaders will fail at times.
I made several mistakes when working on the plans for a new library wing in one high school. I made several others when I did a renovation at another high school. I failed at keeping the School Librarian’s Workshop going as an e-newsletter. And even recently, my proposed program for the upcoming AASL Conference was not accepted.
Does that make me a failure? It depends on what I do next. If I decided, for example, that AASL members were no longer interested in what I had to offer, I could tell myself I’m a failure, but failing is not the same thing as being a failure. That only happens when you quit.
Each time one of your plans or ideas doesn’t succeed, you can use it to grow and be better. For AASL, I didn’t read some of the details on how the final programs would be selected. I needed to reach more of my contacts to ask for support and do so frequently. I sent something out once and then voted. Next time I can and will do better. (That’s also growth mindset.)
Look at how you failed. What caused it? Did you make assumptions that proved erroneous? Should you have built more support before you began the project? It may be painful initially to look back, but it’s the fastest route to future success.
Everyone, especially leaders, risks failure and the potential for losing confidence in themselves. And that is the big danger. When your confidence level slips, it affects every part of your professional (and possibly personal) life. You can’t afford to let that happen. We are not alone in facing the challenge of coming back from failure and losing confidence in ourselves.
Jesse Sosten offers some compelling advice on How to Regain Your Confidence When It Falters. He refers to this loss of confidence as “the dip.” He suggests you “Leverage the Dip.” By this he means, reframe it so you look at it as a sign you are poised for growth. Accept that “you are a work in progress.” After all, if you are not progressing, you are not growing, and as I’ve written here before, that means you are dying.
Sosten’s next recommendation is to Limit Your Inner Compromise. This is the part where you shut down and hope no one is noticing you and remembering the last idea you had that was a non-starter. Instead, be more aware of your reactions. When you see yourself wanting to exhibit this kind of behavior, check in with your Mission, Vision, and Philosophy. What do you stand for? Speak up as needed.
Confidence is not developed overnight. But you can lose it all in a moment if you aren’t prepared to deal with the fallout when things go wrong. The fact is things do go wrong even with the best of planning. Having a Plan B is a good idea, but even that might not work. When it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to come up with and move forward on your next new idea. The best way to have people forget about a plan that didn’t work (and for you to let go of your negative self-talk) is to follow it with successes.