Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dealing with Failure

I have written often about failure. I believe it is important that we each push ourselves, take on more and more risk, and experience life (personally and professionally) out on the edge. In doing so, sometimes we will fail. But what we learn from these failures is what defines us, what propels us to even greater heights. Learning from failure is key to the growth and development of any leader.

My daughter sure learned this hard lesson this week. She put herself in the arena and ran a great campaign for her middle school's vice president. She worked hard for weeks on her campaign and gave a great speech in front of the entire school. But she lost. Heartbreaking for her, pretty rough on her campaign manager Dad.

So, we had a talk about failure. We talked about the failures of Abraham Lincoln. We pondered the implications of a man who ran for state legislature and lost; who ran for Congress and was defeated; who ran for the US Senate not once but two times. We talked about a man who lost plenty of elections before he finally won some and ultimately was elected to become the United States President in 1860.

More importantly, we talked about learning from our failures. We discussed how each time Lincoln failed, he jumped right back into the arena and found a way to keep advancing. When Lincoln was defeated for nomination for Congress in 1843, he established his own law practice and ultimately was elected in 1846. When he was defeated for US Senator in 1854, he turned around and got elected to the Illinois state legislature. Lincoln never quit, never stopped advancing, kept learning, and took two steps forward for every step backward.

My daughter (and her campaign manager Dad) are learning again that it is not what happens to you that defines who you are. Rather it is how you respond to it. As with Lincoln, I encouraged my baby to not give up. If she cannot serve as Vice President, she should still be a part of the student council. She should stay engaged and continue to be an active part of the school leadership team. She should keep her head up, congratulate her opponent, and demonstrate to the school that she is a person of character, even when things don't go her way.

We also used this as a chance to do an After Action Review (AAR). We both agreed there were things that she (we!) could have done better. Learning can be so powerful when we open ourselves to honest assessment and focused criticism. I am confident that these are lessons she can apply when she runs for office again.

This little one is not finished growing. She is a trooper who I know will find a way to turn this failure into something good. But she tried. She knew it would be difficult to defeat her opponent and yet she put herself in the arena. She reached high knowing that with great risk comes great rewards. And now, despite her failure, she is better and stronger than she would have been had she played it safe and stayed on the sidelines. I am so proud of her!!

That's my girl. And that's...Leader Business!


DeDe said...

Well said! My mom always tells me about her grandfather who said that there's no such thing as a mistake - as long as you learn from it, it's not a mistake.

Mitch said...

I can't remember who said it, but it seems to be sound: "The only time someone fails is when they quit." Your daughter learned a very valuable lesson, and had a great translator to help her learn it well.

Coach Scott said...

"Failure is not trying." Great thoughts on how to attack failure. I've always tried to live my life feeling I have no regrets.

I'm a friend of James T. Parsons. He told me to check out your blog. If you have the time, please check out mine. Thanks.


Becky Robinson said...

Thanks for sharing your post on the leadership carnival. As the mom of three young daughters, I think ahead to days they may face disappointment as your daughter did. I hope that their dad and i will help, direct, and encourage them well. You seem to be doing a fantastic job with your daughter!

Annuity said...

Great quotes! I really impressed with post as well as "DeDe".