Building Potential in the Midst of Failure

“Don’t focus on the failures. Focus on the journey toward results. It’s better to do something and fail than to not try anything at all.”       ~ Ajaero Tony Martins

Do you focus on the failures of people or their potential?  Leaders are passionate about leading others to make something better.  This is called vision.  However, with the drive towards excellence can also come a keen awareness of where things are not right.  This is called discernment.  We need to see where things are lacking to move to the better.

I love to speak into the potential of people.  Last night, I was encouraging a family member about their intelligence and my desire to invest in them.  However, that same day, I had also become consumed with the failings of another family member.  I was frustrated and angry about their lack of change.  All that I was seeing was their past and their lack in the present.  I was staying stuck in this view of them, which was leading to bitterness.  I needed to also see their potential.

Leaders need to walk a tightrope with their perspectives.  They can’t ignore when things go wrong.  Mistakes need to be acknowledged.  However, they can’t become stuck there.  They need to lead others to see how the failures are part of the journey to something better.  Failures, just as much as successes, can be opportunities to cast vision towards potential.

Here are some practical tips to promote potential amid failures:

Be Aware of Your Own Issues with Failure (Model Giving Yourself Grace When You Fail)

Dan is a leader who gets a lot done, but is often fire-fighting to fix problems, rather than focusing on top priorities.  In the long run, this is hurting the organization.  He realized that he is driven by anxiety.  He is fearful that these problems will be viewed as mistakes and so is driven to fix them immediately.  As he evaluated his anxiety, he realized that he had a big fear of failure stemming from a past job where the board only pointed out where he was lacking.  Dan is now stopping when feeling anxious, focusing on the truth of his potential and making choices with his time accordingly.

Are you fearful of failure?  Do you give yourself grace when you fail?  Others notice how we live, not just what we say.  You can tell others that it is okay to make mistakes, but then you also need to model that.  As leaders, we need to evaluate our own underlying issues with failure.

Be Aware of How You Treat Others When They Fail (Disarm the “Hot Buttons” of Failure with Empathy)

Many of us have been conditioned to dislike mistakes.  For example, when I saw the items I missed on a test at school, I saw where I was lacking instead of where I had the potential to learn.  Because of people’s own “hot buttons” with mistakes, how we approach mistakes with others can build them up or tear them down.

As leaders, when a mistake happens, we want to help fix the problem with very good intentions.  We start to ask a myriad of questions to find the solution.  However, our good intentions can unknowingly create a wall with the other person.  We need to first acknowledge the grief that goes along with the mistake before we jump into problem solving.   For example, “I see the disappointment (or sadness, frustration, anger, etc.) you are feeling with this not turning out the way you wanted.  I am here to process through this with you.”  Remember, questions without empathy become interrogation.

Don’t Assume – Ask

Elizabeth has a passion to build a strong team.  She is very diligent with her hiring process; however, her last hire has not worked out.  Hiring can be a time-consuming and emotionally intensive process.  She begins to question herself and her abilities as a leader.

Can you relate to this leader?  We can all be self-conscious at times, and this is only heightened when we feel we have failed.  When we begin to doubt ourselves, we can easily believe that others are doubting us too.  This can especially shape our interpretation of what others in authority are saying to us.  We can assume that our boss, board, parent is only thinking the worse of us, but our perspective can be totally skewed.  And, this will only erode our trust in them, which can have enduring consequences.  Don’t assume what others are thinking.  None of us can read minds.  The relationship will only grow stronger by engaging in conversation and asking for their thoughts.

Trying, failing, and learning are all a part of the journey of achieving the best.  We all need encouragement in times of failure to see the potential.  Be aware of how failure can be emotionally charged for you and others.  Give yourself compassion and grace, extend empathy to others and use it as an opportunity to engage in relationship and cast vision towards potential.

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