Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My Greatest Failures

“OK, Major Magness. The enemy movement will be turned here, delayed there, and will ultimately make their way in the south to Red Pass. Your job is simple, don’t let them through. You must BLOCK their movement through the pass. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir, I won’t let you down.”

Well…I let him down. I knew he said block but I had interpreted it to mean delay. No movement became slow movement. The enemy got through. I failed.

As I mentioned on a previous post, my favorite interview question is, “What is your greatest failure, and what did you learn from it?” So the question is not so much the subject of my great failure above, but what I learned from it.

From my failure to block, I learned that -- “block means block.” When someone tells me to do something, I better deliver. If I don’t, I am letting the team down. I better accomplish the mission. No excuses.

Have I learned this lesson? I hope that I have. I understand the importance of accomplishing the mission. I know that people are counting on me – be they customers, stakeholders, my teammates, or my boss. I won’t let them down. Have I learned from my failure? Ask my teammates!

The point is -- I have failed a lot. More times than I care to remember. But I like to believe that I have fallen forward, that I have pushed the envelope, that I have failed while reaching for new levels of greatness. And I have used each of these as an opportunity to build my leadership muscle density. Each repetition, each failure, has been a chance to grow, to improve, to become a better leader.

-- I have hired the wrong person and learned to take my time when hiring, solicit other opinions, check references, and to value the importance of measuring a person against the culture you seek to create. I failed on all of these and made a horrible selection.

-- I have failed to communicate important projects and initiatives to my boss and he was embarrassed to learn of them from someone else. Man…that was a butt-chewing. Now I over-communicate, ensuring my boss hears from me – good news or bad.

-- I have failed to take action when a teammate was not meeting the standard and watched as they ended up hurting the team’s performance…and morale. I learned to take action immediately, to not let my failure to make a correction create a new standard.

-- I have failed to tell people thank you, to celebrate success, to reward teammates for their hard work. I have learned to be generous with praise, to do so often and in public, and to never underestimate the value of a twenty cent ribbon (i.e. a military achievement medal or a simple token of appreciation).

These are a few of my failures – and what I have learned from them. We are reading every day of colossal failures in business, in politics, and in sports. I hope we can all learn from them as well.

So I ask you today: What is your greatest failure…and what have you learned from it? Leave a comment below and let others benefit from your growth. That’s Leader Business!


Eric Peterson said...

Learning from failures is an ingredient in effective leadership. A good leader is decisive. Those decisions aren't always successes, but the most important part (as you have pointed out) is to learn from those "non-successes."

I think many people dwell on their failures instead of accepting them, learning from them, and moving all. Humans will's how we respond to failure that makes us successful.

Thanks for a great post!

Tom Magness said...

Thanks Eric. Isn't there a quote..."Better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all." As odd as it sounds...I like the people who go for the high hanging fruit...not the low ones! Those people are usually those who have failed, who have learned from it, and have the willingness to reach higher. Thanks for the feedback, Eric. TM