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Failure As A Leadership Learning Experience And Opportunity For Growth And Success

Written by: Lars Friedrich, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Lars Friedrich

Generally, failure for anyone in a position of leadership or authority in corporate and entrepreneurial business environments is perceived as being negative.

Photo of problematic businessman.

As the mere fact of someone or something not succeeding, a lack of success in some effort, a situation or occurrence in which something does not work as it should, or someone does not do something that should be done.

In that way, failure, particularly in the Western world, is too often not seen as an opportunity to improve, evolve, and succeed.

Simply by failing forward!

A stepping stone to success

As part of an ancient Japanese Martial Arts tradition I've been immersing myself in for the last 43 years, I naturally took on many of those Eastern concepts and the included mindset as my "Touch of Zen", which I frequently share with my valued clients.

For example, the following old Japanese saying entered modern Western business culture as a now-famous and often-recited quote.

Shippai Wa Seiko No Moto (失敗は成功の元). Failure is the stepping stone to success. Zen Proverb

I experienced this transmitted wisdom first-hand during my ongoing training, where I failed and still fail regularly.

And yet, as hard and uncomfortable as all these experiences of failing were in those moments, it eventually led to growth because I eventually chose to fail forward.

Otherwise, I surely wouldn't have shown all that ongoing commitment and self-leadership displayed by all the needed resilience, persistence and perseverance over the last four decades.

Additionally, by not stopping and setting too many fixed stepping stones in front of my path, I allowed a natural flow to happen, followed by growth, without ever losing sight of my pre-defined goals.

Transferred to corporate and entrepreneurial business environments, self-leadership for executives and leaders is definitely about not setting themselves up for failure and knowing that the farthest distance in the world is between how it is and how they thought it would be.

And with that in mind, failing forward is the stepping stone which is, of course, loosely set to their success while leading themselves and others!

The realities of failure

Put into practice, and when working on their self-leadership, the critical point for executives and leaders is to view any occurring moments of failure whether perceived or factual as a learning experience.

By embracing the hardships and stressful challenges with all the unavoidable accompanying setbacks that come along, they can learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, grow and improve from there.

So the question then, of course, is, how can executives and leaders shift their mindsets and deal with those setbacks efficiently?

They can start by examining the realities of failure and must accept that failure can distort their view of their goals and abilities, leading them to believe false things.

Also, failure can lead to feelings of helplessness and fear, which, in turn, result in a failure complex!

Another disadvantage of failure is the possibility of self-sabotage, and to succeed, they must confront their fear of failure and concentrate on what they can control.

Accepting these realities can help executives and leaders navigate failure and probable setbacks more effectively and develop a resilient and open mindset because, when used correctly, stress is also a powerful growth tool.

The creative power of stress

But how can that be?

Let's remember when we excelled at something and all the necessary planning, preparation and training beforehand accompanying stress was almost certainly present, shaping our results and who we are today.

"Think of your way through difficulties: harsh conditions can be softened, restricted ones can be winded, and heavy ones can weigh less on those who know how to bear them." Lucius Annaeus 'Seneca' the Younger

With this in mind, American psychologists Alia and Thomas Crum have developed a three-step(ping stone) model ¹ to help people harness the creative power of stress.

  • Step one: Seeing it! By acknowledging and recognising the stress experienced and reframing it as an opportunity to grow and investigating its potential root causes.

  • Step two: Owning it! By taking ownership of personal stress response and recognising that there is a choice on how to react to stress.

  • Step three: Using it! By channelling the existing negative energy into constructive action and using it as a growth and development tool.

Failing forward and grow

Undoubtedly, those steps all sound relatively straightforward, but as we all know, learning to confront and express difficult emotions can be challenging.

Still, it's vital for all personal growth to identify, accept, and process feelings to understand ourselves better and how we prioritise our experiences.

Especially those of failure!

In transferring all of the above-given information back to positions of leadership or authority in corporate and entrepreneurial business environments with a statistically higher-than-average failure probability, executives and leaders should definitely learn and cultivate to be comfortable with experiencing recurring periodic discomfort along the way.

As stepping stones of their discomfort and failure, so to speak!

Then, failure and all unavoidable accompanying setbacks can indeed be seen as a learning experience and opportunity for growth as a continuous part of their self-leadership development.

Priming executives and leaders for success.

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Lars Friedrich Brainz Magazine

Lars Friedrich, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Lars Friedrich is an expert in personal & professional leadership transformations refined with a touch of Zen. As a former Officer & Special Forces Operator, executive in international & intercultural corporate positions and founder of his boutique business, he has vast accumulated experience, expertise & knowledge in leadership, resilience, endurance, commitment, persistence & dedication. Furthermore, Lars Friedrich trained in traditional Japanese Martial Arts for 42 years and frequently travels to Japan for his ongoing tuition, which amplifies his experience. With family ties & homes in Australia, Finland & Germany, he is proudly serving & guiding male & female leaders via shared knowledge & passion.





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