Here’s How My Biggest Business Failure Improved My Leadership Skills
John Rampton, VIP Contributor, Entrepreneur
Everybody is a genius when things are going good. Failure and what follows is when you really learn who has what to offer.
There’s a lot you can learn when your business fails — despite it being a devastating experience. Whether it helped you realize the importance of a support system, or validating your idea or helping you sustain a long-term goal, there’s usually a silver lining.
However, I was surprised the failure of my business bolstered my leadership skills in the following ways.
Failure shaped me as a leader.
Perhaps the main reason why failure can be a rewarding learning opportunity is that it shapes you as a leader. When you fail, you must take ownership of the decisions you made. Whether if it was a bad investment, a flawed hire or a dud marketing strategy, you need to take ownership. Remember, the buck stops with you — you can’t weasel out of this responsibility.
Failure is when we need the soft skills that we often take for granted, such as communication. When it was time to admit my business failed, I wanted to hide in my office and layoff my entire staff with a mass email. That’s not how it’s done. Besides being unprofessional, it would have revealed a complete lack of empathy.
Besides that, taking responsibility when delivering the bad news could lead to a new opportunity. Just imagine if you sat down and explained the situation with employees one-on-one. Besides taking responsibility, maybe they have a brilliant million-dollar idea you could pursue.
Failure showed me what did and didn’t work.
Is there anything worse than a know-it-all-boss? How about a boss who stubbornly forges ahead even though they’re sinking?
As a leader, you have to check your ego at the door and realize that you don’t know everything. I know that’s a lot to give-up when it’s your startup but many businesses have failed because they were led by people who ignored the warning signs and rejected advice from those around them.
Sometimes it takes the failure of your business for you to realize that you don’t have all the answers. Even more enlightening is that failure encourages you to reflect to see what went wrong. For me, this was relying on one of stream of income instead of diversifying. As a result, I had to think outside of the box and develop fresh ideas to get back on my feet.
At the same time, I also realized that I could be a persistent person who had a knack from content marketing. I tapped into those skills to help launch several thriving businesses.
Failure is about experimenting.
A while back I saw an article that explained why tech companies keep running failed experiments. There were several reasons for this. But, most notably, experimenting encourages you to be innovative and push your boundaries and limitations.
It also gives you a chance to empower and encourage your team to develop fresh and exciting ideas. And, it gives you an opportunity to make more informed decisions and ask better questions. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”
Resilience may be the most important factor in whether a business owner succeeds or fails. Resilience is all about how you react under pressure, and there probably nothing more stressful in business then telling your staff that you have to let them go.
Resilience is how you bounce back. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself and vowing that you won’t start a new business, you dust yourself off and try again. For me, those are important qualities a leader must have. After a trying day of making difficult decisions and putting-out fires, you have to be able to stay focused and get-right back into the game.
Allows you to trust your gut and make better decisions.
We often ignore our instincts but your gut is pretty good at guiding you in making important work and home decisions. These decisions have been based on your experiences. When something just doesn’t feel right, it’s probably because you’re been in a similar situation in the past.
Eventually, this allows you to see new opportunities with greater clarity and focus. Also, as an added perk, your gut allows you to make decisions faster. Of course, for the more important decisions you need time to analyze and reflect. But, for those moments when you have to think on your feet, your instincts can come in pretty handy.
Makes you more appreciative and grateful.
I quickly learned the importance of appreciation and gratitude are after my business failed. In fact, I would say that it helped me recover more quickly since it encouraged me to focus on what I had in life. Moreover, a study conducted by Harvard found that giving thanks can make you happier.
Being grateful has now helped my create a positive work environment that is motivating and inspiring. Because my team knows how much I appreciate their hard work they have high morale and consistently deliver quality work.
You find out who really has your back.
When your business is on a roll, there is no shortage of supportive friends, family, customers and employees. But, will these people still be around when you experience a major setback?
When a business fails you’ll notice that there are two types of people around. The rats jumping ship — sorry if that sounds harsh. Or, the people who still believe in you and will do everything they can to help you resolve the problem.
I have an amazing and supportive wife and family who stood by me. I also had some colleagues who helped get me back on-track. Without them, I don’t know if I would be where I am today.
Because of this, I’ve made it a point to surround myself with a talented team that I trust — no matter what. This could be through autonomy on projects to just knowing that they’ve got my back on the good and bad days.
In other words, I give them the freedom to work when and how they want because I am confident they won’t leave me high and dry.