Why failure is part of the path to success

12 August 2016 -


The ability to roll with life’s punches and keep moving forward is key to finding personal and professional success

Matt Scott

Failure is a fact of life.

Whether it’s the failure of a project, losing your job, a marriage breakdown or even the collapse of a company, failure happens (to paraphrase a well-known saying). It’s the job of the professional manager to know how to deal with that failure when it inevitably takes place.

Speaking to CMI chief executive Ann Francke at the launch of CMI’s Bouncing Back report, management consultant and report author Katarina Skoberne said that failure need not always be a bad thing – as long as you learn from it.

“An understanding that failure is a stepping stone on the way to success changes everything,” said Skoberne. “If people in your organisation understand that they need not fear making a mistake, their decision-making will be different.

“The transformation that comes from surviving a major crisis delivers leadership resilience. It also brings empathy, vulnerability and collaborative-ness, which can foster resilience within the whole organisation.”

Government chief commercial officer Sir Gareth Rhys Williams also spoke at the report launch, explaining that developing the ability to be hit by failure and still keep moving forward was key to future success.

“Early failures [in your career] are recoverable from and do teach you the ability to ride a punch,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to work in a corporate where the message from the CEO and other directors was: ‘I don’t mind if you make mistakes, I just don’t want surprises’; ‘If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t pushing hard enough’; and ‘Only 51% of your decisions have to be right, as long as one of the other 49% doesn’t kill us’.

“That tone from the guy at the top creates a totally different mindset. To have that background has been really helpful [in my career].”

The absence of such an accepting culture can actually encourage crises to occur in the first place, the CMI’s Bouncing Back research found. Some 78% of 1,100 managers surveyed blamed a lack of support from senior management for the emergence of crises in their career, while 68% of managers cited culture failure as responsible.

Humility also emerges from failure, which can drive successful managers on to greater heights.

“If as an entrepreneur you haven’t failed, then humility and empathy usually doesn’t come easily,” said Skoberne. “You are one of those people who says if I can work 14 hour days, why can’t everyone else?

“Failures bring out another side of your personality. For me, it was through the humbling experience of failure that I learned to lean on other people.”

Find out more about CMI’s Bouncing Back report and series of events, including video interviews, here

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