Failure is not a word business owners often like to hear, yet Mary McGuire, author and personal development coach, believes that handling failure in the right way can lead to entrepreneurial success.
The word “failure” is usually the elephant in the room we would rather not address. Failure means our business might perish, or we might do irreversible damage to our reputation. It might mean we lose jobs, threatening our financial security and that of our families.
Of course, failure is not something we should court, or welcome into our working life, but when viewed in the right way and used as a learning experience, it can provide more insight than unbridled success.
As Napoleon Hill, the author of ‘Think and Grow Rich’, famously said: “For every adversity, there is a seed of equivalent or greater benefit.”
Sometimes, when we are in the midst of failure it is hard to see this. Look at any serial entrepreneur (including Richard Branson) and you will certainly find that failed projects have paved the way to their one big idea that was to break through.
I have worked in management, in business consultancy and as a business owner for over 25 years and I’ve seen my own fair share of failures.
As a manager of residential services, I woefully underestimated the mood of my staff and nearly had a mass walk out to deal with. In some of my consultancy projects, I’ve had to deal with spectacular fallouts with my clients. I’ve even had to walk away from a very promising tech startup when I could see the lead inventor was not up to scratch.
I have learnt that for every failure there was an opportunity to grow, to reflect and to decide on a different path going forward.
Learning to accept failure does not mean that we lower our standards – we use it to power us forward towards success and to do this we need to build up our business resilience.
The building blocks to business resilience
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks or difficulties and quickly move forward, which requires us to have good building blocks.
The first of these building blocks is belief. We cannot achieve anything if we do not believe in ourselves or our efforts. But this belief needs to be grounded in a realistic awareness of what we can achieve. If we do not believe wholeheartedly in our efforts we have doomed them to failure from the outset.
Preparation is everything, and the best way we can do this is to plan in detail the steps we intend to take. The old adage “fail to plan, plan to fail” is very true. Planning gives us a roadmap and allows us to re-trace our steps and find a new route sooner.
Understanding our plan, allows us to realistically estimate the work that is involved and assess the efforts and resources needed to help us to deliver the result.
This is a great skill for any business owner and if you find difficulty in getting down into the detail, find a partner who can, so that at least one person understands exactly what is needed and by when. Spending time on the detail will always pay dividends.
Put your efforts into a wider context
As a business owner, you need to be able to see challenges as just another blip on your journey, rather than proof that life is against you.
Avoiding drama when crisis hits allows you to stay clear headed and look at your options dispassionately.
You won’t be the first business that has faced some form of failure and you won’t be the last, so don’t dwell on it for too long. As soon as possible, pick up the pieces and start to build a better plan and a clearer vision.
We are often over optimistic when we build a plan about how smoothly everything will go and how easily resources will be available to us.
Yet we can be hyper-critical when we are using hindsight to look on a mistake. But, it’s possible to find a middle way. Somewhere between the rose-coloured spectacles and the bleak shades of grey we can find what is the most likely or probable outcome.
We should always aim for this middle ground when creating some new business offerings since it will be a better compass to help us power our way to the finish line.
Learn to take criticism well
Nobody likes being told that they’re idea is rubbish, or that their plan is unrealistic if we are caught up in the excitement of our own ideas we tend to shy away from getting any realistic feedback.
Yet criticism, when offered constructively can help us to avoid pitfalls and failures which come down to own lack of experience.
Criticism can help us to flatten our learning curve and make progress faster. We need to feel comfortable not knowing it all and be gracious enough to accept criticism when offered by an experienced person in a helpful manner.
As entrepreneurs, we should move forward with best intentions, plan for the worst outcomes and maintain business resilience by accepting what happens with a clear and peaceful mind.
Mary McGuire is transformation consultant for global companies and author of new book Coming Home to You
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