The Value of Failing

Have you every failed at anything? How did you feel about that experience? Did it make you want to give up? If so, you need to adjust the way you look at failure. As pointed by Henry Petroski, professor of engineering and history at Duke University, “The biggest misperception people have about failure is that it is all bad.”

Albert Einstein once said, “You never fail until you stop trying.

If you look at the lives of many of America’s heroes, you will find that they were unsuccessful in their earlier years. The biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson are classic examples of this.

Lincoln is unquestionably one of the greatest leaders this country has ever had; however, prior to being elected president in 1860, he had a number of failures, including losing his jobs, failing in business, losing eight campaigns for public office, and suffered numerous rejections by colleagues and constituents.

While Edison was attempting to create the electric light bulb and experiment after experiment was unsuccessful, someone called him a failure. He retorted, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

The difference between the people who accomplish things in their lives and those who see unsuccessful attempts at a task as failure is that the first group does not forget the lessons learned in their formative years.

A young child fails many times before he accomplishes the task of locomotion. The child first scoots, then crawls then walks and even in the process of learning to walk, the child falls many times before he learns to walk.

As parents, we do not discourage a child from attempting to walk just because he or she falls. We know that eventually the child will gain the skills necessary to accomplish the task.

Somewhere along the line, however, many people began to view “failure” as all bad. They forget the lessons learned from early childhood about not giving up. We are all going to fail at some time in our life. Making mistakes is a part of the process. Theodore Roosevelt said, “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.” Joseph Conrad said, “It’s only those who do nothing that make no mistakes.”

We need to realize that failing at something does not make us a failure unless we give up.

Great leaders understand that failure is symbiotic with learning. That is what called Michael Jordan to say, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

In his article, Failing Your Way to Business Success, entrepreneur, investor and sales strategist, Graham Dockrill, points out:

You will find that the most successful people in life have failed the most times. If you welcome failure as a guide and teacher, you’re more likely to find your way to success. Secondly, when you and your business are driven by discovery, you take a step forward, gather feedback and adapt.

The things that we get from failure that give it value are:

Failure Builds Character – There is a lesson to be learned from everything that happens to us and that includes failing. One of the greatest benefit earned from failure is strength of character. Failure hurts. It causes to us to reexamine our action. If life were perfect and every endeavor ended in success, we would not learn as much – failure teaches us more about ourselves and builds character better than success ever could.

Failure Provides Learning Opportunities – Early educational reformer John Dewey said it best: “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes”

As Edison’s quote about learning what does not work demonstrates, there is value in examining why we were not successful in our attempts to do something. In an earlier column I mentioned Fred Rangel telling me about a situation which I do not recall. He said that I looked at him and said, “Okay, you paid your tuition. What did you learn?” Every failure should be viewed as an opportunity to learn.

I have often told people, “I have never failed at anything; however, I have certainly had a tremendous number of never-to-be-repeated learning experiences.” I believe we waste a golden opportunity when we do not learn from our failures.

Failure Teaches Resiliency and Persistency: We need to remember the lessons of childhood when we did not know the meaning of failure and kept on trying until we learned to walk. As Thomas A. Edison emphasized “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” That is a valuable lesson to learn.

Rather than give up when he did not make the Laney high school basketball team’s varsity squad, Michael Jordan dedicated himself to becoming a better player.

Failure promotes Growth – When our failures lead to, knowledge and persistence we grow. We reach deeper meanings and understandings about ourselves and our organizations and why we do the things we do. This helps us to reflect and put things into perspective and develop meaning from painful situations. Growth allows us to eliminate the errors and create streamlined processes in our organization’s culture.

My favorite philosopher, Anonymous is quoted as saying, “Failure is life’s great teacher; it is nature’s chisel that chips away at all the excess, stripping down egos as it molds and shapes us through divine intentions.”

Since we know everyone fails at something and since failure builds our character, provides learning opportunities, teaches resiliency and persistency, and promotes growth, why should we fear it.

As Winston Churchill has pointed out, “Success if not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”

If you want to be a great leader, go out and fail your way to success.

Your Team Is Facing a Challenge: Do You Step Back or Step Up?

Your Team Is Facing a Challenge: Do You Step Back or Step Up?

Your Team Is Facing a Challenge: Do You Step Back or Step Up?

Being a part of the John Maxwell Team as a JMT certified independent coach, teacher and trainer, I have the opportunity to participate and interact with John a few times every month through his podcasts, webinars and blogs. 

In one of those recent interactions, he asked the question that is the title of this month’s Contemplation Corner – “your team is facing a challenge: do you step back or step up?” 

Before you read any farther, take the time to ask and answer that question for yourself.  As a leader, which do you do?

Now that you have asked and answered that question for yourself, let me ask you another question. “Did you do as I did?  Did you think, ‘Of course, I step up to the challenge?’”

As John pointed out to us, “We’ve all been there. There’s an obstacle at work and you think to yourself: ‘I really need to step up and perform.’ And while that attitude may have served you well as a member of a team, when you become a leader, that same attitude can become a defeating prospect. As a leader, sometimes it’s more important to step back than step up.”

With that statement, he now had my rapt attention! I was thinking “Step back? There is a challenge to be faced, a problem to be solved.  What do you mean step back?”

He then pointed out, “While this may seem like a paradigm shifting without a clutch, it actually makes perfect sense when you examine it further.”

If you are familiar with The John Maxwell Company’s Five Levels of Leadership, you will recall that when people become “Level 3” leaders, they drive productivity, but they don’t accomplish this simply through their own productivity.

As John pointed out to us, “It’s critical that a team’s productivity goes up as a result of the team’s efforts, not because their leader is simply working harder. And this only happens if a leader is willing to step back and focus on their leadership skills, instead of trying to do everything on their own. If a leader ‘steps up,’ it can mean that the team is unable to step up on their own and grow. Without the ability to produce on their own, the team can lose momentum, stagnate and underperform.”    

That raises the question “How does a leader step back to let the team step up?”

John says, “To be an effective leader, you must take all the productivity skills you have worked so hard to build up to that point and work to imprint those skills on your team. By stepping back and focusing on the productivity of others, you will help them to thrive on their own. That’s being a true leader.”

“To make a real difference, this effort must be intentional. You should track progress to see if there’s real improvement due to your leadership efforts. Ask yourself: Is the team relying on you or are they working to solve their own challenges? And don’t be afraid to let your team fail. Learning from failure is how you can create the right environment for their ultimate victories. Almost every great success comes on the other side of a roadblock that needed to be overcome.”

There is an old axiom that says “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” The same is true of leadership.  We may create positive results through our own efforts, but if we develop the leaders around us, those results can be multiplied exponentially.

Our most important job is the development of others; then step back and let them do what we have equipped them to do.

Are you willing to step back in order to move ahead?

How to Postpone Procrastination

How to Postpone Procrastination

How to Postpone Procrastination

For years I have jokingly told my friends, “I am writing a book on The Positive Use of Procrastination; but for some reason I keep putting it off.”

I guess one of my friends got tired of the joke and told me that I really should write something about dealing with procrastination and I am taking up his challenge.

As I began to examine the problem of procrastination, I learned two important things: (1) everyone procrastinates sometimes, but it is a much larger problem for some people than for others, and (2) people have been procrastinating for centuries. The problem is so old that ancient Greek philosophers Socrates and Aristotle even wrote about it.

With that information in my mind and my fingers already on the keyboard I began to think, “Maybe I shouldn’t write this article after all.  Maybe I should put it off until I have done more research on the topic.” 

While my mind was telling me to procrastinate, I decided that I was not going to procrastinate while attempting to write an article on procrastination.

 

What is Procrastination?

As I was contemplating how to begin a column on procrastination, the words of one of my former college professors kept echoing in my ears – “operationally define your terms;” “operationally define your terms.”

In order to quiet the voice of my former professor, I decided to begin with defining exactly what procrastination is. Dic-tionary.com defines procrastination as “to put off until another day or time; to defer; to delay.”

As used in this month’s column, procrastination is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones to the point that it becomes counterproductive.

Effects of Procrastination

Letting ourselves put things off can have greater implications than may be obvious to us.  Procrastination not only causes personal stress and the guilt that comes with it but may include other consequences such as gaining a bad reputation with coworkers, family and friends.  It can also cause individuals to lose their ambition to succeed and keep them from accomplishing their dreams.  Procrastination can even be health threatening if we know we should see a doctor but keep putting it off.

Reasons for Procrastination

If procrastination is counterproductive, has all the negative impacts just described, and keeps a person from accomplishing the tasks he or she should do or wants to do, why do people procrastinate?

If you were to read the numerous articles written on the subject, each with its own list of the reasons people procrastinate, two things would quickly become obvious: (1) there is no single reason for procrastinating, and (2) some people are habitual procrastinators while other people’s procrastination is based upon the tasks itself.

Some of the most common reasons identified for procrastination are:

Lack of motivation,
Lack of skill,
Fear of failure,
Fear of Success,
Lack of Interest,
Sense of rebellion.
Regardless of what reasons drive us to procrastinate, if we are going to continue postponing things anyway, why not postpone procrastination.  That raises the question, “How do you postpone procrastination?”

Steps to postponing Procrastination

Begin the task – The first step to stop procrastination is to start the task. While we may not be motivated to accomplish the task, we should start anyway.   Making the first move is an evidence-backed strategy for beating procrastination.
Tim Pychyl, a psychologist and director of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, says that his group tested this approach in a small study and “found that once students got started, they appraised a task as less difficult and less stressful, even more enjoyable than they had thought.”  He explains in an email, “They said things like ‘I don’t know why I put it off, because it’s not so bad’ and ‘I could have done a better job if I got started earlier.”

We often stop ourselves from starting because we think we are not ready yet.  We do not know enough yet, still have to do all kinds of things first, etc.; but is that really true?  What stops us is really our own attitude about the task.  When we think too much about something, it tends to become an incredible obstacle as all kinds of rationales for postponing the task pop into our heads.  We need to just quit thinking of reasons not to do whatever it is we are postponing and make the first move.  Often the next steps flow automatically from just doing. 

It’s easier to keep going with a task after you’ve overcome the initial hesitancy of starting it in the first place.  That’s because the tasks that induce procrastination are rarely as bad as we think. Getting started on something forces a subconscious reappraisal of that work and we find that the actual task is not as difficult or as boring or as threatening or whatever other reason we have for not doing it. 

That is what happened when I started this month’s column.   Once I started writing and wrote a few paragraphs, I began to get motivated to complete the task.

Set goals with deadlines – When you have a task to do, set a goal for its completion. As Tony Woodall stated, “A goal without a deadline is just a wish.”  It is easy to keep putting a task off if there is no deadline for its completion.

After waiting for some time to write this column, I decided one night that I would complete it before the end of the workday the following day.  I got up that day determined to do that and did it.

Remember the feeling of accomplishment – Think about how good you felt the last time you completed a task that you had been putting off for quite some time. Seize the opportunity to feel that way frequently by completing the tasks that you have been putting off. When you start the task use the feeling of completing a long-postponed task as the motivation for doing it again.
I feel really good about completing a column on the topic of procrastination.  It has been long overdue and it feels so good to have finally written it.  I am going to remember that feeling the next time I feel myself procrastinating on a task.

I have already decided that the next thing I am going to postpone is procrastinating on a task.  

What are your priorities? – Part 2

What are your priorities? – Part 2

As mentioned in last month’s column, leaders never advance to the point where they no longer need to prioritize, yet not every leader practices the discipline of prioritization.  That being the case, this month I want to follow-up by discussing how to prioritize.  However, I want to share with you a strange and humorous thing has happened as a result of a situation I shared in last month’s column. The situation I shared was:

I frequently see an organization executive at conferences where my company exhibits. In order to keep the identity of this executive anonymous, I am going to refer to the executive as Mr. Smith.  Nearly every conference I attend Mr. Smith approaches me and tells me he would like for my company to perform for his organization one of the services we provide. I respond, “Okay, how do we make that happen?” 

Mr. Smith always responds, “Call me next week.”

The following week, I call Mr. Smith and leave a voice message because he is so busy doing whatever it is he does. After a few days, I call again and leave another message saying that I am trying to get back with him in response to his request.  After a couple of weeks, I send an email saying that I have tried to call and have left messages and  since he is so busy, why didn’t he call me when he has time to talk or send me an email telling me when it would be convenient to  meet.  I may or not hear from him, but the project with which he is asking us to help never gets scheduled. 

Later in the year at another conference at which my company exhibits we have a replay of the request for our services –  me asking him how we make that happen, him responding “call me next week,” me leaving him voice messages and sending an email.

This has happened approximately 3 times per year for approximately two and one half years. 

Many times he apologizes for not following through on his request and says, “I’m just so busy.”

I understand being busy. All of us are busy.  However, we manage to do the things that we really want to do. 

Mr. Smith manages to attend at least three or four conferences per year, yet cannot find the time to do something he says he needs for his organization.  What he says he wants done does not get done because it is not a priority for him.   

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What are your priorities?

What are your priorities?

In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell wrote:

“Leaders never advance to a point where they no longer need to prioritize.  It is something that good leaders keep doing, whether they’re leading a billion-dollar corporation, running a small business, pastoring a church, coaching a team, or leading a small group. I think good leaders intuitively know that to be true. However, not every leader practices the discipline of prioritizing.  Why?  I believe there are a few reasons.

First, when we are busy, we usually believe that we are achieving. But busyness does not equal productivity.  Activity is not necessarily accomplishment. Second, prioritizing requires leaders to continually think ahead, to know what’s important, to know what’s next, to see how everything relates to the overall vision.  That’s hard work.  Third, prioritizing causes us to do things that are at the least uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful.” 

Other philosophers and writers have also stressed the importance of establishing priorities. In his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey devotes an entire chapter to “Put First Things First” and stresses “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” 

The poet, novelist, playwright, diplomat, and civil servant Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “Things that matter most should never be at the mercy of things that matter least,”

I am a firm believer that we accomplish what we prioritize and each of us needs to look at what we do and evaluate whether we are doing what we should be doing. 

Frequently, people say to me, “I don’t know how you have the time to do everything you do?” Now, think about this.  We all have the same amount of time.  Why is it that some people get so much more done than others? It is because the ones who get the most done “put first things first” and do not let other activities take precedent over what needs to be done. They have firmly established their priorities.

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Helpful Hints for Executives

Leadership Coaching with Mel Brown

Because of the tremendous response I received to March’s column which contained “Helpful Hints for Executives,” I decided to present some additional   “Helpful Hints.”   The two hints    I would like to pass on this month are: “People Do Things for Their Reasons, Not Yours” and “The Time to Start Planning Your Next Budget is Immediately After You Get Approval on the Previous One.” 

Hint # 4 People Do Things for Their Reasons, Not Yours

As a supervisor, manager, or executive, you may wonder why people you supervise don’t do what you would like them to do or why your boss or board of directors doesn’t respond positively to your ideas.  It may be because you described what you wanted done in terms of what moves and motivates you and not in terms what moves or motivates them.  It is important to understand that people do things for their reasons, not yours. 

Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”  The question, then, is “how do we get people to want to do what we want done?” 

The answer is that people will always behave in ways that are congruent with their highest values.  If you understand that person’s highest values—what really means something to them—and you speak with them in a language that resonates with their highest values, you are more likely to get them to perform in the way you desire.

Let me illustrate the principle this way. When I was Executive Director of the Montgomery County Department of Community Supervision and Corrections, the Community Justice Assistance Division (CJAD) of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), announced that in order to divert offenders from the Institutional Division (ID) of TDCJ, CJAD would make money available to local departments to develop and operate community corrections facilities (CCFs). 

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Never Ask a Question to Which You Don’t Know the Answer

Leadership Coaching with Mel Brown

First of all, I want to say, “thanks to all the people who were kind enough to write and tell me how much you appreciated last month’s column. Your taking the time to write to let me  know  you  found  the column helpful  is deeply appreciated.  As my grandfather used to say, “Your kindness warmed the cockles of my heart.”

Some of those who wrote asked if I would expound on some of the concepts I presented.  I appreciate the request.  That makes it much easier for me to come up with ideas for this column.

Never Ask a Question to Which You Don’t Know the Answer!

In last month’s column, I illustrated this principle by saying that when I had an item that needed to go on  the agenda  for the meeting of the  Juvenile Board or Commissioners Court, I visited with each member to learn if they were supportive of what I was proposing.  If I discovered a majority of them were opposed to what I was proposing, I pulled the item from the agenda, visited with those who were opposed, found out what their objections were and spent time overcoming them.  I only put it back on the agenda when I had enough votes for the item to be approved.

As one reader pointed out, frequently matters come up that require the item be placed on the agenda of the next meeting and there is not enough time to do the things I suggested.  That reader is absolutely correct.  In that case, this principle would not be applicable. However, most items are not emergency items.

Another reader suggested I provide examples of how this principle works.  Suppose I had an idea for a new program or wanted to suggest a new way of doing something that would require approval from the board.  In a casual conversation with each member of the board, I would bring up the idea.  If I got a negative response from some of the members, I would ask them to explain why they felt the way they did.  Once I knew what their objections were, I could then work on how to overcome their objections or amend the idea to make it more acceptable to them.  [READ FULL POST]

Helpful Hints for Executives

Leadership Coaching with Mel Brown

Once again I find myself experiencing the malady which every writer periodically experiences – the malady of “writer’s block.”   Since my creative juices were drained and nothing was flowing from my brain to the keyboard of my computer, I decided to peruse through some past issues of The MBA Dispatch to see whether reading some of my previous columns stirred up new ideas. 

Sure enough it did stir up one good idea.  I decided to update and rerun some columns from a number of years ago.  An earlier version of this column appeared in the March 2013 issue of The MBA Dispatch.

Helpful Hints for Executives

Recently during a conversation with the Director of a Community Supervision and Corrections Department, she reminded me of some “helpful hints” that I had given her shortly after she was appointed as Director and said that they had proven very valuable to her. 

 It occurred to me that “helpful hints for executives” might be a good topic for this column.  Many of these hints were passed on to me by people I considered mentors, by other probation directors or by other friends or are ideas I discovered while exploring the role of a leader. 

Regardless of their source, they proved invaluable to me and I thought they would be worthy of consideration by readers of this column.  Here they are for whatever they are worth. Read full article

The Value of Looking Back

Leadership Coaching with Mel Brown

Recently, I read an extremely well-written, thought provoking posting on LinkedIn written by Valerie Rivera, who describes herself as a “Culture Catalyst/Design Thinker/Coach.” I not only connected with Valerie on LinkedIn, but also obtained permission to use her posting as the introduction to this month’s column. Her posting said:

My heart was pounding so hard in my chest, I thought it might explode.

I’d finally attempted to go running in Colorado, but my lungs were revolting against me. After years of living at sea level, the altitude was really taking its toll.

In a show of solidarity (or maybe pity?), my right shoe untied itself three times. The left one was not so generous. Still, I welcomed the excuse to stop and catch my breath, grateful that I’d skipped the double knots – but dejected by my apparent lack of stamina. I turned around to head back just as the sun began to set, and the view shocked me. I’d been running uphill THE ENTIRE TIME!

I was so focused on putting one foot in front of the other that I hadn’t even noticed the true magnitude of my quest. Then it hit me – this was just like starting a business. Disappointment, rejection, elation – sometimes all in the same day! Which leads me to wonder: when things are difficult, do we turn around often enough to celebrate how far we’ve come? More.. Read Full Article

Do It – Write: Part 2

Leadership Coaching with Mel Brown

In last month’s column we explained the “Do It – Write” approach to writing for publication, explored how to develop articles using this approach, and discussed potential sources from which you could draw material for publication.

Incentives to Write

While the leaders in most professions are not generally given the “publish or perish” mandate faced by those in the academic ranks, having material published in a recognized journal can enhance the career of the writer. Most employers will view favorably those individuals who bring positive recognition to their organization by publishing information about their programs, services or products.

Having your work appear in print also brings recognition from peers in the field. This recognition often brings with it opportunities to speak at conferences and seminars or to serve as a consultant to other organizations. These activities, in turn, provide additional opportunities to develop material for publication.

In the “Do It – Write” approach, not only does speaking furnish material for articles, but having your work published can also provide additional opportunities to speak. Each activity serves as a resource for the other.

In addition to the benefits or incentives mentioned above, writing for publication gives one a sense of accomplishment and also serves as a form of self-development. The more you write and speak, the better you become at writing and speaking.