Many years ago, I listened to an interview with John Maxwell, leadership expert and best-selling author, and was intrigued by his exploration of “failing forward,” also the title of a celebrated book he had written. I’ve since followed him for years – these success principles are integral to all of our career and executive coaching work.
Maxwell questions why certain individuals can fight off handicaps and hardships, only to fail forward, not backward. “I know of only one factor that separates those who consistently shine from those who don’t,” says Maxwell. “The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.”
In light of the multitude of challenges many of us are facing, let’s look at four areas and success Maxwell focuses on to help us see failure in a positive light, deal with it and move toward success.
- Redefine failure and success
How can we change our perspective about failure? We’re taught to fear it and avoid it. Acknowledge that we all make mistakes and fail. Most high achievers don’t see mistakes as the enemy, but an opportunity to learn. Anyone can defeat failure. It begins with perspective; acknowledging and viewing our failures as steppingstones to our goals or purpose, “the price we pay to achieve success” as opposed to avoiding it at all costs.
- Change your mind, intentionally
We must acknowledge and accept responsibility for our mistakes and failures. Maxwell contends that failure is an “inside job.” When different individuals are confronted with a similar adversity, why is it that one succeeds, and one fails? To win the mind game against adversity requires a positive attitude. The secret to creating optimism is learning “contentment,” not the “need more toys” version, but contentment from positive action. “Contentment comes from having a positive attitude. It means expecting the best in everything, not the worst; remaining upbeat, even when you get beat up; seeing solutions in every problem, not problems in every solution; believing in yourself, even when others believe you’ve failed; holding on to hope, even when others say it’s hopeless…a positive attitude comes from within. Your circumstances and your contentment are unrelated.” We must add positive action to a positive attitude to fail forward.
- Embrace failure as a friend
There is always a certain amount of adversity we must overcome to succeed. But Maxwell takes it one step further: “To achieve your dreams, you must embrace adversity and make failure a regular part of your life. If you’re not failing, you’re probably not really moving forward.” Living through failure creates resilience, adaptability, opportunities, and strength. Don’t take it personally, step back and look at the big picture, be open to risk-taking, find the positive benefits.
- Increasing your odds for success
Maxwell identifies the top reasons why people fail, and then offers actions we can take to fail forward and achieve success:
- Develop people skills; build solid relationships and Emotional Intelligence (EQ).
- Attitude is everything; with one shift in perspective, our circumstances can change dramatically. Recognize when circumstances need changing; where there is a disconnect with a job, career path, or relationship.
- Examine your level of commitment and focus. A lack in either area can turn simple mishaps into failures.
- Be flexible and open to change. If you resist it you deny success.
- Develop self-discipline, take personal accountability; take action in spite of outer circumstances. Create an action plan, goals for next steps and a sense of purpose.
- Talent alone won’t bring success. Don’t settle; let’s fortify our gifts and reevaluate the weak areas that can hold us back.
By redefining failure and success, changing our mind, embracing failure, and taking actions to increase the odds for success, we’re better able to muster up the courage and determination to face adversity head on and fail forward towards success.