Embracing failure

Letting go of the fear to fail can be an important driver for women to achieve success in the workplace.

Q: How can I help women in my company learn from their mistakes and not be afraid of failure?

A: The adage is true: failure is often our best teacher. Embracing mistakes can be a powerful teaching tool that is essential for fostering growth and success in the workplace. Unfortunately, many women are held back by the fear of failure, worried about how it may impact their careers and how they are perceived by others. As talent managers, we can help women in our organizations learn how to face failure head-on and turn it into a valuable learning experience.

Put the failure in context

Early in my career, I had the opportunity to present to my company’s board for the first time. Honestly, that first presentation was a complete failure. I miscalculated how I should have presented my information, and as a result, the board didn’t agree with my proposal. However, when I realized I wasn’t hitting the mark, I quickly asked some strategic questions which later gave me the information I needed to re-present my work. The board agreed to hear from me again, and that opportunity enabled me to get it right the second time.

I often tell the women in WOMEN Unlimited’s programs that failure isn’t the end; just because something doesn’t meet your initial outcome expectations doesn’t mean you need to stop trying entirely. You still need to resolve whatever the issue was, which often means understanding where you went wrong and how you can improve the next time. Within that context, it’s not a total failure – it’s a valuable lesson.

Recontextualize critique

It can be easy to take any feedback or critique as a personal attack, but encouraging women to approach this feedback as a learning opportunity is one of the best things you can do for their career growth. Helping them understand that it’s not about who they are as a person, but simply about something in their strategic approach that needs to change will help them recontextualize the critique they’re receiving.

To cite another personal story: When I was a girl, I took tap dancing lessons and quite frequently, all I would hear for 60 to 90 minutes was everything I was doing wrong. I learned quickly that taking that feedback personally wasn’t the way to go. When I realized that the critique was meant to make me better and not an attack on who I was as a person, I was able to implement that feedback and became a better dancer as a result. The same mindset applies to a career.

Underscore the importance of asking for feedback

The best way to make failure feel constructive is to ensure the women in your workplace know how and when to request feedback. This not only gets them into the habit of understanding what went wrong and building on their skill set, but it also underscores for everyone that your workplace is a safe place in which to fail.

It’s one thing to pay lip service to the notion that it’s OK to make mistakes and have some failures, but it’s essential to make it clear to everyone in your organization that it is a value you hold. None of us are at 100 percent in everything we do. Maintaining a company culture that focuses on helping women understand the learning processes behind failure is incredibly important – not just for their career development, but for building an inclusive and encouraging workplace.

Failure is a natural part of life; it’s our job as talent managers to help women understand that it’s OK to stumble. What matters is how we bounce back, learn from our mistakes and use those experiences to perform even better in the future. Embracing failure as a learning opportunity empowers women to take risks and excel in their roles and it adds remarkable value to your organization.