failure, learning

Why You Should Prize Failure

Failure happens when a desired or expected outcome doesn’t materialize. It can happen whether or not there was something you could have done about it, too. Whether the mistake is a small glitch or a major flop, failure often weighs heavily on you personally because you’ve been conditioned that, without exception, “failure is not an option”.

This is a lot to overcome. In most people’s experience, nothing is perfect; you and the people around you are flawed, and the world is constantly changing. Thus, you’re not always going to get things right on with mistakes, foibles, and failure and re-frame them as ”learning”:

1. Failure points to weaknesses in behavior, skill, processes, your overall system, or level of support provided.

Use an error to examine a weakness in how you are performing the work. People involved may need to build technical or interpersonal skills. The steps designed to produce the work output may be inadequate. Also, you might need to increase follow ups or check ins during a process to increase the ability to get and give needed guidance.

2. Failure provides you new information and data about what does and doesn’t work.

Mistakes help you home in on what will ultimately work well, especially when you are in uncharted territory. Repeated, incremental failures can help you fine tune toward success.

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” – James Joyce

3. Failure can highlight false assumptions.

Consumers didn’t embrace the Ford Edsel in the late 1950s in part because the company mistakenly assumed consumers wanted big cars when they wanted smaller, more economical ones. The maker of Coke incorrectly assumed that it would convert Pepsi drinkers if it made its product taste more like its rival. While it’s too bad that these companies went all the way to market with ill-conceived products, they did learn that their thinking was flawed at a fundamental level.

4. Failure can create curiosity that leads to inquiry and more engagement.

With an eye towards learning, you can use failure to focus your team on the work. To do this you must avoid blaming and shaming individuals, which can drive a wedge in the middle of your team. Instead, focusing on what happened can bring your team together to solve problems. Additionally, your team can go one step further to share what they learned with others in your organization.

Perfection is not the goal. Nothing and no one will ever be 100% error free. Rather, view the performance of work as a creative process that can teach you a lot through the errors, mishaps, and failures that occur along the way. Be grateful you have opportunities to discover what and how you can improve the next time.


WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER OR BLOG? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at

business team

How You Might Be Undermining Your Team’s Drive for Results

I was recently asked, “How do I get my team to run with the ball instead of relying on me so much to tell them what to do? They should know how to and when to move things forward!”

Every leader wants a highly competent and motivated team who, with some planning and reflection, can move their areas of responsibility in the right direction, based on company vision, values, and goals.

When this doesn’t happen, you must look at yourself first. After all, you control the conditions employees work within.  So it’s a safe bet that you might be encouraging or discouraging certain behaviors – in this case, an over-reliance on you and your opinion.

In general, I assume you have the right people in the right roles, but that is something to take a look at. Maybe a team member isn’t competent or is in the wrong role. Well, that at least tells you something about your hiring process and criteria. Maybe you need to look at that. But assuming you have capable individuals in place, here are some things to consider:

1. You could be sending mixed messages.

That is, your actions say one thing and your words say another. For example, you might tell a direct report to “run with” an idea, but if you believe that you are the smartest person in the company or that no one does as good a job as you do, you might criticize decisions your direct report makes or grill him on how things are being done, even when his judgment calls are perfectly acceptable. You might say you trust him to move forward, but you end up breathing over his shoulder for every move or even wrest back control by inserting yourself into decisions or conversations with others. In effect, your actions end up cancelling out your words.

2. You may not have set a clear path.

If your team does not know where they are going with an aligned vision, goals and priorities, they will be lost. Having a clear path forward empowers them to know what to do, when, and how to work together. That means that they won’t need to check with you so frequently about what to do next.

3. You may not have put in place supportive work structures.

If you don’t build supportive work structures, your team won’t work together the way you want, such as being interdependent, cooperative, and accountable to each others. These structures include fair compensation that is internally equitable and externally competitive, bonuses that don’t get in the way of taking appropriate risks, and recognition for things like creativity, innovation, surpassing customer expectations, etc.

4. You may not have created a culture of responsibility and accountability.

This means behavioral expectations are lacking for handling conflict, working across “silos”, taking risks, etc. Hey, we would like to think that adults do this automatically, but they don’t. You have to make sure there are clear behavioral norms in place, so your team knows how to act. And of course, you need to enforce them, too.

Assuming you have the right people on your team but are disappointed that they don’t seem to take responsibility, you are probably doing something or have failed to do something to be clear about your expectations. It all starts with you.

Feeling Overwhelmed is Your Own Fault: 8 Tips to Stop It

calendarThe world moves so quickly these days, it feels hard to keep up. With the proliferation of available information, you can trick yourself into believing that you need to keep up with all information and happenings. However, it isn’t simply paying attention to everything that’s going on that makes you productive and valuable; it’s staying intentionally attuned to the things you’ve identified as important and relevant to your business that keeps you productive and on target.

In short, you’ll stop feeling overwhelmed when you learn to say “no” to everything that is not fundamentally important to achieving your current goals.

Here are eight tips for reducing feelings of overwhelm and keeping yourself on track with the things you’ve identified as important:

  1. Get comfortable with the fact that most information is just noise. Just because information is accessible doesn’t mean it’s relevant to you.
  2. Determine what’s fundamentally important to maximize your business and yourself. The really important things for business tend to be the basics: mission, vision, values, current goals, key performance indicators (KPIs), key relationships, and professional development for you and your staff.
  3. Base your everyday tasks and activities what’s fundamentally important. Look at your calendar. Do your day-to-day appointments and scheduled blocks for projects etc. reflect the fundamentals as they relate to your position? Whether you’re the CEO or the VP of Human Resources, there are things you ought to be doing to further the company’s current goals. Are you? If you find items that have low value related to the company’s goals, figure out what to do about them, including delegating them to others who have the capability and could grow from the opportunity.
  4. Reduce your connection to irrelevant information. Doing simple things to decrease distraction can reduce feelings of overwhelm, like turning off pop-up email notifications, creating email rules that dispense with low priority email messages, and unsubscribing from email lists that you rarely find helpful.
  5. Train your staff about your response priorities. Which topics are front-burner for you? What counts as an “emergency” when they should definitely interrupt you? What’s your response time for texts versus email versus phone calls and when should they use each method of communication?
  6. Build time into your schedule when you are intentionally available for drop-in conversations. This presumes that you set aside “do not disturb” time when you are focused on strategic and project work. Having “office hours” when you’re readily available encourages others to access you on your terms, not theirs.
  7. Find root causes to other disruptions or time wasters. “Fires” usually occur when they wasn’t a good process in place for handling a situation. Look at ways to create or refine processes for handling most things that are likely to challenge your staff, so they learn to do things without you.
  8. Question whether you really need to have or attend the meetings on your calendar. Maybe you do, but it’s good to review whether a particular meeting is really a good use of your time.

Practice seeing through the “charms” and “alarms” of life to keep your center. Knowing what’s important and saying “no” to the rest is the key to reducing feelings of overwhelm.

New Beginnings: How to Gain Credibility in a New Role Without Slaughtering Sacred Cows

Sacred CowWhether you were recently promoted to a leadership position for the first time, or you are a seasoned leader hired into a new company, stepping into a new role is exciting . . . and it can also be fraught with landmines and interpersonal dynamics you never dreamed of. If you transition to your new role thoughtfully, you increase your odds of making a great impression on others, avoiding critical errors that come from underestimating the power of corporate culture, and laying the foundation for getting results later on.

The biggest tendency is to jump right in to show how good you are, regaling others with your knowledge or solving problems that you can’t wait to address. Unfortunately, those who have been around awhile might see things different and might even take offense at all of your new-fangled ideas.

Unless you were hired into a desperate situation with the expectation that you would clean house from Day 1, you would be wise to ease in to your new role and be a bit circumspect. For the first three to six months, here are 6 things to do or keep in mind when you are the new kid on the block:

1. Take it slowly.

Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. You don’t have to “fix” everything you see that is wrong (in your eyes) all at once (unless that’s why you were hired). Let people get to know you first. Slowing down also allows you to more fully understand why things are the way they are. If you rush to make changes, you’re sure to step on toes that you can’t afford to offend.

2. Clarify what will make you “successful”.

To do this, look at what would make you successful based on the role, what your boss is looking for from you, and what you want to personally accomplish long- and short-term to be successful.

3. Make your boss shine.

Need I say more? It’s always good to make your boss look good, so what can you do in your new role to support your boss’s agenda?

4. Foster a relationship with each direct report.

The better your team knows you as a person, the easier it is for them to put your ideas and suggestions into context. Get to know what’s important to them and for their careers. They will already have trust in you and know you have their best interests at heart.

5. Don’t risk being labeled an “outsider” from the get-go.

Align with the company’s values and behavioral expectations. Figure out how things get done. Get a feel for the sacred cows, pet peeves, superstars, and outsiders. In short, adapt to your new surroundings. You can point out when and if the company doesn’t “walk its talk” later once others know and trust you.

6. Observe and uncover issues without solving them immediately.

Especially in your area of responsibility, get to know other players, learn about current and on-going issues, and just listen and observe. Spot patterns, learn the history of things, and tune into where there are alliances and feuds. Quietly hypothesize about root causes and possible solutions.

Sometimes less is more, and that seems to be apt when starting a new role (and especially in a new company). Ease into your job in the first 3-6 months and let the company adjust to you before you attempt to impact the new culture. Once you are a better-known quantity and accepted as part of the group, you’ll have the credibility to voice your observations, concerns, and solutions and have them taken seriously.

Coordinating Action Through Communication

Coordinating Action Through CommunicationI haven’t known a company yet where employees didn’t complain about a lack of communication. It isn’t that there is silence going on. To the contrary. People talk to each other all the time at work. The words are floating out there, but we don’t truly connect to each other’s meaning.

So many words are wasted at work because you assume that everyone else shares your assumptions about what you said. Really communicating – at work or at home – involves aligning your own expectations and assumptions with the assumptions of others. Based on our assumptions, Judith Glaser in her work, identified three types or levels of conversations:

Transactional – These tell/ask conversations are the most superficial of all conversations. They are an exchange of simply factual information. You share what you know and seek to bring your facts into alignment with facts that others have.  For example, “I have a dentist appointment today at 2:00 and will leave the office early.”

Positional – This type of conversation is about advocating/inquiring and happens when you inform others of where you stand on an issue and seek to persuade them to seeing things your way. Problems occur when we cling to our own perspective, needing to be right, instead of showing a willingness to adjust our information based on what we hear from others.

Co-Creative – In these conversations, you and others explore a topic through sharing/discovering and remain connected to each other as you move through the topic together. The point of these conversations is to be open to information you don’t know and to be open to the fact that you don’t know what you don’t know.

“We live in historical conversations . . .
and live our assumptions as though they were true.”
– Julio Garreaud, Human Architect

Within these conversations, you make statements and ask questions using the following linguistic distinctions:

Assessment – an opinion based on your perspective, beliefs, and assumptions.
Assertion – a statement based on your expertise in a certain subject matter
Request – a stated desire that includes what you want, by when (date/time)
Promise – a YES/NO/MAYBE response to a request, indicating whether or not you will fulfill the request as stated, renegotiate the terms of the request, or revoke an earlier promise due to changing circumstances
Declaration – a statement based on authority/power
Offer – an unsolicited promise made without getting a specific request in advance.

Of all the linguistic distinctions, requests and promises are critical for coordinating action because they drive results. The trick is to ensure you make your request explicit enough so that someone else knows what you want and how they can successfully give it to you.

In meetings, for example, the key is to share enough information about a situation, so the people involved can make specific requests about what they need, and others can make informed promises to fill those needs. When you request “an executive summary on the ABC issues by Thursday at 3:00 p.m.”, others know whether or not they are capable of promising to do so.

When you are skilled at knowing which type of conversation to have to serve your purpose along with the specific linguistic distinctions you can use to craft your conversations, your company or work group can become a symphony of communication that results in harmonious action.

Feelings of Shame Are at the Heart of These 3 Leadership Types

shameThe following leadership types come from feelings of underlying shame that center around their identities. Their behaviors reflect how they attempt to craft identities they believe are more worthy.

Business Dysfunction: Overcare

Leadership Type: Helper/Giver – This might be you if you find yourself giving and giving and giving and feel as though your employees take advantage of you. You never seem to get back the quantity or quality of “respect” or “love” you show others. You tend to take on too much at once, and you will often take on overflow work from your employees even if it creates burnout for you. It’s like drowning yourself to keep others from drowning! At the end of the day you are overly-focused on meeting the needs of others that you ignore your own needs. Oh, I forgot. You don’t think you “need” anything. The unconscious and unspoken message you’re sending is, “Oh, you poor people. Where would you be without me? You can’t do it on your own.”

On the plus side, you have genuine empathy and compassion for others and really care about your employees.

You can become a “better” version of yourself when you focus on loving and appreciating yourself, instead of trying to “prove” you’re worthy by acting lovingly toward others.

Business Dysfunction: Workaholic Culture

Leadership Type: Overachieving Ambitious Chameleon – This might be you if you do and say whatever it takes to increase your status and to get what you want. This can make you appear disingenuous. As a competitive type, you set overblown goals then take shortcuts to get there quickly, often sacrificing quality for achieving a goal. You want to be indispensable, so you may appear self-promoting and emotionally disconnected from others at work. Failure is not an option for you.

On the plus side, you are charming, confidently driven, focused, ready to take on any challenge, and you usually succeed. Anyone would love to have you as a mentor.

You can become a “better” version of yourself when you focus on what works and is fulfilling to you, instead of what’s efficient. Realize it isn’t all up to you – you have a whole team to rely upon.

Business Dysfunction: Irresponsibility

Leadership Type: Misunderstood Misanthrope – Do you know you’re creative and unique but feel misunderstood by others? You might feel a tug between wanting to be different and at the same time, you want to be accepted by the mainstream group. More often than not, in an attempt to be unique, you create an inner fantasy of who you are, but you find yourself driving a wedge between yourself and those whose acceptance you seek. You might be this type if you find yourself in the center of drama frequently. Others see you as moody or temperamental. You have a handy excuse for not being accountable when things go wrong – you tell yourself that others just didn’t understand or catch your creative vision.

On the plus side, you are creative and more aware of your own inner emotional life than most people.

You can become a “better” version of yourself when you get out of your own head and fantasy life about how different you are. Realize there is nothing wrong with or flawed about you at bottom. Focus more on your positive characteristics.
For more information on human archetypes learn more about the Enneagram.

Leadership Types Based on Underlying Anger

anger typesSome business dysfunctions are driven by leadership types who work from underlying feelings of anger, whether it’s suppressed, acted out, or repressed.  Here’s how these types show up.

Business Dysfunction: Power, Control & Micromanagement

Leadership Type #1: Persnickety Perfectionist – Your team sees you as a “black and white” thinker, who is judgmental, controlling, very demanding and never satisfied. For this reason, others keep their distance from you because they don’t think they can please you. Well, you do tend to criticize everything they do! You simply feel obligated to fix everything according to your standards.

On the plus side, you are refined, organized, modest, responsible and concerned with quality. You provide reliability and stability with your principled approach to life.

To soften you approach, acknowledge you anger/dismay and shift just a little to come across as curious about a situation instead of critical Learn to accept that everything is as it should be. Seeking perfection is a process, and often “good enough” is OK.

Leadership Type #2: Pushy Power-Grabber/Bottom-Line Bully – If you’re the second type of “micromanaging” leadership type, your team sees you as controlling, angry, and intimidating. More task- than people-focused, you can sometimes take a “my way of the highway” approach and are subject to angry outbursts that are over as quickly as they appeared. You can be blunt and love a “good discussion” (aka “confrontation”), which is a game to you, but you forget that others can’t withstand the intensity. Afraid of being taken advantage of, you habitually use intimidation and more power than necessary to get what you want. On the plus side, you are a protective leader who would go to the mat for your people. You are good at taking charge and getting things done and who are a daring risk-taker.

Your team will see the real “you” when you pause, slow down, and learn patience. Cultivate relationships with those around you. Realize that the unhealthy, contentious confrontations will eventually do more harm than good.

Business Dysfunction: Disconnection and Withdrawal

Leadership Type: Elegant Evader – Your team experiences you as so conflict avoidant that you retreat from or “give in”, in any situation where there might be the tiniest disagreement. You go to great lengths to maintain an even keel with no ruffled feathers. By avoiding conflict, you ironically create more conflict as your team becomes frustrated with you when work stalls and issues are not resolved. Sometimes you give in to “go along, get along” without noticing the inconsistent decisions made and confusing messages sent. You can appear to go along with others outwardly, but inside you dig in your heels and refuse to budge (ahh — there’s the repressed anger!). On the plus side, you are a peaceful, calm, and kind consensus builder who truly has others’ best interests at heart.

Your team will see the real “you” when you embrace conflict and take initiative to get what you think is important. Learn to live with some discomfort and assert yourself.