Not all failures are created equal. Some are preventable, others are unavoidable, and still others are expected. Learning from failure is all the rage.
Committed learners commonly reflect on what went wrong and how to fix it. In teams, after-action reviews (also known as the post-mortem) help to identify areas for improvement and how to address them.
Failing forward, as the popular expression goes, requires leaders and team members to learn quickly with an eye toward fast improvement.
While missteps come in many shapes and sizes, the reactions to failure focus almost exclusively on the negative. What went wrong gets all the attention. This aids learning, but not confidence. Nor does it recognize the actions or choices people should want to replicate next time. In the words of legendary coach Don Shula, “Every time you compete, you must take something positive from it, regardless of the score.”
Shula isn’t talking about learning from the failure. Like so many other successful coaches, he means underlining what went right. By first and foremost focusing on the actions worth repeating, performers build confidence and create a positive frame of reference. Once the positive takeaways have been established, aiming at the missteps and how to correct them doesn’t seem so debilitating.
Leaders who fall flat on their faces in a given situation often do so because the challenge is brand new. Having never seen the problem or situation before, they make things up as they go. This almost guarantees failure in some key aspects of the performance.
Focusing exclusively on what went wrong, as opposed to what went right, seems logical. But it imprints negative thoughts and impressions that will linger until the next performance. As one writer puts it, “If you knew how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought.”
By taking away the positive first, leaders and team members create a learning climate where errors and mistakes can be acknowledged and rectified without defensiveness. Learning to highlight the positive before turning to missteps is how great performers learn best.
I call this anecdotal value, and thus all my social media handles.
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