What is the worst possible thing you can do as a leader?
A quick Google search reveals a wide variety of answers ranging from being deceitful to being arrogant, from demanding too much to demanding too little. Others argue that the worst thing you can do is do too much while others say it is not doing anything. My research tells me that the answer is not an objective fact but rather a personal opinion. Just as there are many things we should develop to become great leaders, there are at least an equal number of things we should avoid.
But what about those of us that want to reach higher, becoming the disruptive leader who guides a team doing what others think is impossible? I have written many posts about what we should do but what is that one, overarching thing that we must avoid?
From my research and work as an executive coach for three decades, the answer is simple. We must avoid fearing failure.
In many ways we are wise to avoid failure at all costs because it can ruin everything. Failure can lead to a loss of income, respect and opportunity. So we fear that any mistake will cost the opportunity to have what we ultimately want. No wonder conventional wisdom asks, “Why would we ever welcome failure?”
But that conventional wisdom is WRONG! Let’s look at 5 proven ways that disruptive leaders don’t fear failure but use it as a stepping stone to radical change and disruptive innovation.(This are not in order of importance.)
1: Failure is a Critical Part of the Disruption Process.
The disruptive leader sees the world differently and understands the process of disruption intimately. Instead of irreversible loss or public shame, the disruptive leader understands failure as a required part of the process. The process of doing what has never been done before demands trial and error. That is right – error. Error is attempting or trying something that was not successful.
In other words, trial and error means failure is part of the disruption process. If you don’t try, you won’t succeed.
In your efforts to disrupt, what have you been unwilling to try because you fear you might fail?
2. Failure is Eliminating What Does Not Work
Edison was famous for saying that he discovered 10,000 ways that did not work in creating the light bulb. Any scientist understands the value of eliminating what does not work is a valuable step in finding what does. Elimination is critical in becoming elite or doing what is excellent.
I was teaching in a college that said they wanted to be the best and create an elite status. Yet they accepted every student who could pay the bill and didn’t want to flunk any of them. Amazingly, they couldn’t understand why they turned out mediocre students and never had a reputation as an excellent institution. They feared the financial consequences of losing a student so they failed to eliminate the bottom tier and focus on the top. No wonder they were never able to break out.
In the same way, we are not disruptive leaders if we are simply replicating what others have already done. We must stand out by offering products and services that others value so much that they no longer are content with the former. We cannot be ordinary and be disruptive. That means we must eliminate things that do not work.
In your efforts to disrupt, what have you been unwilling to eliminate because you fear the consequences?
3. Failure is Learning Why It Did Not Work
I’ll say it again, disruption is a process and failure is a necessary step in that process. To skip failure is to avoid learning valuable lessons. But the important point here is to note that the real failure is not learning from failure. The disruptive leader is like that scientist that takes the initiative to try what may not work and then learns why it either worked or did not. The lessons learned are the real valuable because, when applied to the next experiment, the create more opportunities to succeed. The leader who fears failure fails to learn valuable lessons of why things do or do not work. That is a critical lesson for disruption.
As we have watched the Rio Olympics, it is easy to see what has worked for phenomenally successful athletes like Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky. But what we haven’t heard a lot about what what they tried and didn’t work. We haven’t heard those inside stories of trying and failing but learning from the trial to build their success. But we know those stories exist because no one tries something new and performs it perfectly every time. Success demands trying and learning from when it did not work.
In your efforts to disrupt, are are you failing to learn valuable lessons from failure?
4. Failure is Not Bad
This may be a shock to many. Failure really is not bad, actually it is quite good as we have seen above. But in many ways, the disruptive leader does not consider it good or bad. It just is. It is part of the process of disruption. So therefore, disruptive leaders think and feel differently about the term “fail.” Ordinary follower, managers and average leaders hate the word and punish those that fail. Disruptive leaders eliminate the shame because they redefine the conventional meaning of failure. To the disruptive leader, the real shame is in fearing the challenge, refusing to try or refusing to work harder.
In your efforts to disrupt, do you fear the term “fail” because you see it as negative?
5. Failing does not Mean You are a Failure
Many feel that an experiment that did not work brands them as a failure. That is wrong. Failing is simply a temporary result, not a permanent reputation. One becomes a “failure” only when they fear another failure so much that they quit strategically trying. Experiencing failure does not make you a failure. Those that brand you a failure because you have tried and it did not work does not mean that you as a disruptive leader are a failure.
I imagine Thomas Edison had his critics. There must have been those that ridiculed him because he failed 10,000 times but would anyone today label him a “failure.” I doubt it. What about Abraham Lincoln? He had many failures but we wouldn’t consider him a “failure.”
In your efforts to disrupt, do fear being branded a “failure”?
We leverage our power to create radical change and disruptive innovation when we turn failure into success.
Please leave your comment about at how fear of failure has kept you or others from creating a radical change.
Become the Disruptive Leader
I am Dr. Loren Murfield and I develop disruptive leaders . If you are looking for more options as either an aspiring leader or a leader emerging in the Connection Economy, contact me today.
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