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What if you focused on Striving instead of failing?

I continue to be concerned with the constant talk about the importance of failure. The mantra we often hear is “Fail Fast – Fail Often”.  Some people advocate celebrating failure and many others suggest that if you want to be successful you need to fail more.

While failure does present an opportunity to learn and to grow, not everyone takes advantage of that opportunity. Sometimes failure simply crushes people’s hopes and dreams and sometimes failure simply leads to more failure. The message about failing is often confusing for people. Some people ask, “So to succeed I just need to go out and fail a lot? How does that work?”

In the Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading workshop I share an insight from leadership trainer Garth Massey on this topic. Garth believes, as I do, that there is too much emphasis on failure. He says, “It is not about failing, it is about striving; understanding that in the striving sometimes you are going to fail and when you do it is an opportunity to learn and to grow.” I completely agree with Garth.

During my Excellence in Training courses and workshops I talk to trainers about the power of words and the importance of communicating to people in positive terms what you want them to do. Think about that from a leadership perspective. Which is a better message for your people:

    1. Telling them to fail fast and fail often or,
    2. Inspiring them to continually strive to improve, to learn, to grow personally and professionally, to embrace effort and process while striving for incremental improvement and striving to improve the communication, teamwork, and culture of the organization and when they do fail, take advantage of the learning opportunity and share the learning with the team.

Personally I would rather lead a team, and work on a team where ‘B’ was the prevailing culture. In my last 8 ½ years with the Calgary Police Service I was fortunate enough to lead a team where ‘B’ was the prevailing culture. While we did not specifically use that language we were all continually striving to find better ways to teach in order to build the competence and confidence of the men and women we had the privilege to teach every day. When we failed in that task we sat down and worked through things to figure out what we learned and how we could improve things moving forward. That group of great trainers continually challenged and inspired me, and each other, to strive to learn and grow to better serve the people we were training.

We also sought to instill that mindset in the people we trained. They would continually hear us say, “Stick with it. Take a breath, slow down and work through it. Just fix it. Make it work.” We wanted them to understand that things in the “real world” will never go like they do in the sterile and artificial world of training so they needed to have the ability to solve problems in the complex environment of the real world.

As a leader where is your focus and emphasis? Is it on failure, or is it on striving? If it is currently on the importance of failure, consider shifting it and talking about the importance of striving for continual growth and improvement with the understanding that when you do fail the team will collectively take advantage of that learning opportunity to grow and fail forward while continuing to thrive.

Remember that leadership is a choice and a journey and it starts with you. Choose well, keep learning and enjoy the journey.

Brian Willis

Register yourself, and your team for the Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading online workshop to get everyone on the same page regarding leadership and culture. If you are interested in hosting a live Dare to Be Great workshop reach out to me at