How To Approach Failure: 12 Things Leaders Do When They Fail

What do leaders do when they fail? 

It’s easy to get caught up in the successes when we’re reading interviews, listening to podcasts, or learning about a startup’s latest funding round. But behind every success story is a series of failures. 

To help you persevere through the setbacks, we asked leaders about how they approach failure. From failing fast to smiling through the grit, the leaders below share what they do when things don’t go their way. 

Here are twelve ways to approach failure. 

  • It’s a lucky opportunity
  • Watch a movie
  • Steer strategy in a different direction
  • Think of your next moves
  • Failure is defined differently for everyone
  • Clear your negative voice
  • Be honest with yourself and your team
  • Smile even if you can still feel the grit between your teeth
  • Simply try failure
  • Trust yourself and learn to manage pain
  • Run experiments and measure results
  • Fail fast approach

It’s a lucky opportunity

I choose to look at failures as a lucky opportunity. Instead of wallowing in a failure, if you get critical about what you will do differently the next time, who you need to know or work with to improve your success rate, and what skills you are going to acquire between now and then; the failure can serve as a springboard to an amazing next career step, new business venture, or other innovation that may not have come about without those hard lessons learned.

Nicole Spracale, Coaching and Consulting

Watch a movie

Failure happens. When it does happen, I’m an optimist in that I believe something positive will happen at the heels of failure. It’s just a matter of persevering to the positive. For me, when failure happens, I try to watch a movie that night in order to reset my mentality and take my mind off things temporarily. I’ll rest up after the movie, get a good night’s sleep, and usually when I wake up the next day I’ve reset and am ready to work towards solutions. 

Brett Farmiloe, Markitors 

Steer strategy in a different direction

With the experience of working with startups and small businesses, it’s easier to cope with the idea of failure. It’s known that a small number of startups get successful right away. Failure is part of a learning process and the possibility to steer strategy in a different direction. With this approach, it’s not that scary to start something new because any result brings some value—you either understand that your idea is good or learn why it fails. Besides, failing on the first steps is not that bad. It means that you save your time and money on something that’s certainly not worth it. And of course, we learn more from failing than we do from success.

Yulia Garanok, datarockets

Think of your next moves

Failure is inevitable in business. But I believe it’s in how we choose to approach it after the fact. At the end of the day, failure is simply a curveball showing us other alternatives to a certain scenario. In my years as a businesswoman, I’ve learned mind shift tactics in approaching the idea of failure. Firstly, consider what may have been improved. I may list it or take time to ponder the misstep. Second, admit to myself it could have been done better. Third, think of all the alternatives towards my next move. At this point, I’ve reflected, re-positioned, and laid out a new plan of attack towards a new and improved solution. Not to mention, I’ve already closed the previous failure chapter and filled myself up with motivation for the next pivot.

Karissa Yson, Brand Strategist and Business Development

Failure is defined differently for everyone

I try to remember failure looks very different to different people. Failing is devastating when you’re in the midst of trying to achieve something. When a business venture of mine failed, I was deeply depressed. I was taken aback when a family member was inspired by my efforts. They saw my efforts as courageous. Just the reset I needed to try again.

Anthony Baumer, Old Grey Tiger Consulting

Clear your negative voice

As an MLB pitcher, I learned consistency over perfection, having a short memory, and blocking your negative voice were the keys to overcoming failure. I was going to give up runs and lose games. The key was to be consistent in the strike zone instead of trying to be perfect. Having a short memory so I didn’t take my failure into future games and clearing the negative voice in my head that stopped me from pitching to my potential.

Jim Mecir, ImprovTalk

Be honest with yourself and your team

Just as it is with mistakes, failure is not the end-all-be-all, it simply means things did not go the way you intended them to, so now you need to find a solution. The first step with that is being honest with yourself and with your team. You have to admit that whatever you were trying did not work out, aka you made a mistake or an error in judgment. The second step is returning to the drawing board and figuring out how to move forward. When we face challenges and setbacks, we take our problem-solving minds to the problem and we figure out a way to move forward so that we will be successful in reaching our big-picture goals.

Karen Gordon, Goodshuffle Pro

Smile even if you can still feel the grit between your teeth

Failure means you were courageous enough to step outside of your comfort zone, and try something hard. It takes one type of person to pick safety, choosing to do mostly the same thing over and over and experiencing predictable results. It’s another person entirely who forges out to do something new, knowing they could fall flat on their face. No risk, no reward. If you do fail – 1. You have guts. 2. You’re coming back stronger, smarter, and better than ever before. Get up and smile even if you can still feel the grit in between your teeth.

Elisabeth Beemer, Truevo

Simply try failure

I worked at GoDaddy for a month, then, started a coffee shop, called Pine Joe, in Pine, AZ. I wanted to check out more about the results of GoDaddy and other digital products before offering any services to local storefronts. My approach was to find out what exactly worked, then replicating it. Why? Because business owners are taking huge risks. For their family, vision, and future. Simply failure is to understand what to do by doing it then provide it to the community authentically.

Patrick Menzel, Internal Profits, LLC

Trust yourself and learn to manage pain

To fail is to risk falling into oblivion, to be judged, convicted, and excluded by these same thousands of people. That is, perfection and success take you to heaven and failure can lead you to hell. Find the proximal harness zone, think about the future, see what comes next, trust yourself – even in uncertainty, avoid binarisms it’s just a matter of managing pain when nothing works, find an inspiring talk or podcast. Positive thinking is an incredibly powerful way to build self-confidence and counteract self-sabotage.

Sylvia Kang, Mira

Run experiments and measure results

Our business always focuses on how many experiments we A/B tested over a set period and the learnings that come out of that batch of tests—rather than how much revenue we generated. I think this is how every business should operate. Otherwise, your business strategies are confined in a mundane and generic crate of ideas, and your business will never get to stand out, no matter how saturated or niche your market is. Companies need to evolve to sustain in the long run, and there’s no way to grow without some form of failure along the way.

Hung Nguyen, Smallpdf

Fail fast approach

Our department operates on a ‘fail fast' approach to Talent Acquisition. Failure in general is so important to success as there is always something to take away from a subsequent failure. Whether the failure can be measured in terms of data generated (or lack thereof) by getting to the root cause of it quickly, one is able to quickly pivot their work in the right direction.

Steven Brown, DP Electric Inc

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